, , , , , , , ,

In a post “What is this thing called health?”I wrote about the definitive disconnect between a personal pursuit towards health and the emphasis of the well-funded “health care system” that I like to refer to as the “illness industry”.

My individual interest in health has influenced my personal actions. I strive to make my own health and wellbeing as good as they can be. For as long as I can remember I have thought that my health and well-being are my responsibility. Yes I am aware that I have needed and will continue to access the “health care system” for various services however this experience and the outcome of the same is partly dependent on my involvement in terms of my response and subsequent actions. How I access services and when I access them remains in the realm of my responsibility. What I do as a result of the services is also in the same realm. I am not just a passive recipient of service.  How this actually plays out in the system is worth a separate post.

I have been lucky in many ways when it comes to health. Other than a quicker than normal early arrival with slightly crooked ribs, I was born pretty healthy. Childhood diseases ran a standard course but with little or no lasting negative impact. Other than an issue with my thyroid function, having my tonsils removed at the age of 5 and several pregnancies my encounters with the health care system for my own personal health have been minimal.  

I have been lucky because I have always loved to move and to be active. As a result I have sought out activities that enabled me to keep my body moving in one way or another. One of my fondest memories of childhood was my green bike. It was way too large for me when I got it but I was determined and I managed it just fine. I loved that bike and the freedom it gave me to explore and to sail around my neighbourhood. A favourite game of mine was to go for a ride in the suburban community where I grew up and try to get lost. I always found my way home and had spent oodles of time on my bike. I continued to ride that bike well into adulthood until it finally fell apart some 25 years later. That was not the end of my cycling and I continue to cherish the time I can spend pedalling around.

got wheels

I recognized early that my body was a lot happier and functional when I gave it lots of opportunity to be in motion. I noticed the correlation between my physical activity and my mental, emotional and spiritual health. I was happy to see research published that found that walking was more effective than antidepressants for reducing depression but I did not need the research to know that.  I have written about the value of walking in a forest or on a beach and my treasured walks in nature trails that have become my favs.  I am lucky to live and work in a city where I can walk pretty well everywhere. Walking is now my main method of transportation and I notice when for one reason of another I am not able to walk my daily average of at least 45 minutes. It has been and continues to be good for my soul.

Movement in my life takes many other forms as well. I find running difficult yet so very energizing. Running a ten kilometre run, in good time, with my twenty year old son was a gift that I will always cherish. Regular practice of Pilates over the last ten or more years has provided me with a foundation to be able to complete that 10-k run and take up dancing in middle age. Learning about how the body is structured and designed to move has only added to my love of movement.

My love of movement and appreciation of being able to move was reinforced with my Mother’s sudden death nearly eight years ago. Amidst the shock and sadness of loss that followed her passing I thought about how profound it was that she had drawn her last breath. That realization gave me a renewed and totally different respect and appreciation for the body and my ability to continue to breathe. This has inspired me to continue my efforts to move and stay active appreciating every breath.

all ready to go....


The movement that I achieve through my daily activities and that I feel is fundamental to my personal health is completely outside of the “health care system”. Sure the importance of physical activity is acknowledged but that is all. There are no formal efforts to encourage or support people to move. These efforts are left to the will of individuals. To state this slightly differently, if you are healthy and participate in various forms of movement to support your health the “health care system” is not interested in what you are doing. They only become interested once an individual becomes a client/patient/consumer with an illness. In that case if there is an exercise that the “health care system” deems as potentially helpful for a particular illness it may be tagged on to the management and treatment plan.  This highlights the “health care system’s” focus on illness.

My question is if movement and activity are critical for health why are they outside of the funded “health” system? Likewise why are other things that we know impact health also not seen as within the purview of the “health care system”?  

There is plenty of evidence and funded research that highlights the factors that directly impact an individual’s health status: nutrition; income & social status; the availability and strength of our natural social support networks; level of education; employment & working conditions; social environments like safe communities; housing that is safe and secure; access and support for cultural activities; personal health practices and coping styles; healthy child development; biology & genetic endowment; gender and our access to health services. Other than biology & genetics and access to health services, none of these factors get the attention they deserve from the ‘health care system”.

What I am saying is that our health and well-being are much broader than medical care, much broader than the focus of the health care system. Our health and well-being are influenced by many factors and attention to these can prevent people from getting ill in the first place and thus requiring the services of the system. Attention to these factors keeps us healthy.

The “health care system” focuses on the relatively narrow factors of biology & genetics, access to and sustainability of health services and essentially on management and treatment of illness and ignoring these other factors. As a result the individual’s pursuit of health and the “health care system” continue down very diverse disconnected paths.


Irene McDermott © 2012