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Happy National Health Day!

It’s 12 Years Later and What Have We Learned?
3 Reasons Why the Answer is Not Much

If you regularly read the newspaper (or watch television or follow the Internet) you may have seen the following headline: National Health Day Health and Wellness Expert Dr. John Zielonka Declares National Health Day in Canada – Mayor of Ottawa proclaims it for Nation’s Capital. It has now been more than a decade since I first spearheaded this movement in Canada. Initially it was designed to finally accomplish what many Canadians had been asking for over the last 2 decades; an extra holiday between New Year’s and Easter over our long winter. Instead of waiting for the continual debate on who to name the holiday after, I did something unique in government circles – I took action. Hence, National Health Day was born.

Each year I write letters to every Member of Parliament including the Prime Minister and Minister of Health. I have made numerous television appearances as well as nation-wide newspaper and radio coverage. I wrote to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty years ago with the idea and while he turned me down at that time I was both surprised and pleased to see that “Family Day” suddenly appeared the very next year (although it fails to apply to all Canadians). And for 11 years now, it has been proclaimed each and every year by the Mayor of Ottawa.

What is National Health Day really all about?

It’s very simple and it really wasn’t about an extra holiday. As much as Canadians claim to be health conscious, the truth is that the majority of the public, the majority of health professionals and the vast majority of politicians don’t even know what the word health actually means. Please appreciate that I’m not talking about serious genetic problems or severely under privileged people who deserve much better. I’m speaking of the majority of industrialized nations who have the means and ability to be far healthier than they are. If you disagree then explain our “health care system”. I ‘m certainly not the f i rst to say that it really is a sick care system that attempts to manage disease. One simply needs to look at demographics to realize that such a system is doomed to failure. There is a dictionary definition to the word health.

Health – “the optimal state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”

It is necessary to understand that there are 3 key points to this definition;

  1. The definition doesn’t just tell you what health is, it also tells you what health isn’t. The fact that you don’t have a disease or that you’re not sick or not in pain does not mean that you’re healthy. I know of no other word in the English language that is defined in this manner. It would be like defining an apple as a fruit that is not a banana.
  2. It is a completely holistic approach (physical, mental and social well-being – I would even add spiritual).
  3. By its definition health is “optimal”. Therefore, there is really no such thing as being “fairly healthy” or having “average” health. In fact, using the phrase “optimum health” is actually being redundant.

Hence, on National Health Day all Canadians need to do two simple things. One, learn the actual definition of the word health and two; Canadians are encouraged to do anything healthy on this day (although they should obviously practice health every day of their lives).

So what have we learned 12 years later? Not much.

  1. We still very much live in a reactive sick-care system and don’t even realize that prevention is not the same as optimal health.
  2. We rank 30th in the world for health (can you name 29 other countries?) where the average Canadian will spend the last 10 years of their life in sickness.
  3. Canadians are still failing to realize that each person is ultimately responsible for their health and should make it a priority for the rest of their life. Even without the day off we need to understand that our entire system still misses the mark on health and it’s up to us to change that. To continue to wait for the government to take quick action on our health is really an oxymoron.

I urge all Canadians to take action. If all Canadians, especially politicians and doctors understood what the word actually meant, and more importantly acted on it, our country would be a much better place.

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