Vitality or Health? – Why Your Words Matter

“Vitality” is often cited in connection with “Health”, both terms are nouns; but while – hopefully you “are Healthy” (adj.), you may “have Vitality” ( If you don’t, you may want to vitalize, or re-vitalize, which will also make you healthier. However, when you say: “I’m Healthy”, the Vitality is implied, because if you say: “I’m Healthy but have no Vitality”, your listener will understand that you don’t feel Sick. It follows that if in common American parlance, Healthy means: not Sick; then, does: “I have Vitality” necessarily imply that I’m Healthy?

It may seem so at first sight, however, what about those wheelchair Marathoners;, they can’t possibly win without having exuberant Vitality, but are they Healthy? Or even more illuminating, what about the Paralympics athletes – they must be considered Healthy in order to be admitted and their Vitality motivates them to enter – but does the populace really consider these athletes healthy? For political correctness we like to refer to them in terms like “athletes with physical disabilities” in contrast to the “able-bodies”, but the Paralympic Games charter explicitly includes in the category called “Les Autres” (the Others), applicants with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is defined as “inflammatory, incurable disease”, so while a bearer of MS may have the Vitality to enter the Games, we wouldn’t describe them as healthy. Just to delve a bit more into linguistic conundrums, what is a Healthy person that has just been diagnosed with HIV – Healthy or Sick? As we colloquially consider someone Healthy unless there are symptoms, that HIV carrier is just as Healthy as prior to the diagnosis, while probably that person’s Vitality has taken a hit in the process.

So why does it matter – or does it really? The American use of language has never been acclaimed for its accuracy or its unequivocal meaning; rather, English Intellectuals flatly refute Americans’ claims that they speak English. But for all intents and purposes, a clear definition of the terms could lead to huge economical and societal benefits. Let’s just analyze the last example, if the HIV carrier is presumed healthy, the person receives no care because there are no symptoms. The person morphs into a patient as soon as symptoms occur and the now sick person is being treated for the symptoms. In contrast, if the person’s diminished Vitality is being addressed; the individual receives preventive care and probably undergoes some lifestyle modifications, to forestall symptoms in the first place.

Now let’s review the Dictionary definition of the terms:

Health: As officially defined by the World Health Organization, a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (this definition has not been amended since 1948)

According to Merriam-Webster: a : the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain

Vitality: 1 a : the peculiarity distinguishing the living from the nonliving b : capacity to live and develop; also : physical or mental vigor especially when highly developed. 2 a : power of enduring b : lively and animated character (Merriam-Webster)

Great energy and eagerness to do things:(Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)


The WHO definition of Health that was introduced upon the end of the 2nd World War sounds a bit alien today, three generations later. The term “Social Health” alone begs for a definition that evokes identical understanding; but in any case, today’s health-care systems do not resemble the WHO’s definition. Dictionary definitions of Health liberally include terms such as “Spiritual Health”; but while we all agree that spirituality is integral to our well-being, the attempt to define what that means has filled libraries. In contrast, Vitality is defined by many different terms that evoke little or no controversy about the meaning. Although Vitality – like Health – lacks a quantitative scale, it is explicit to the observer to recognize a person with Vitality, while that reckoning doesn’t work for Health. Moreover, we can easily weigh and communicate a person’s level of Vitality or the lack of it, but when we do, we most often – wrongly – mention the person’s “Health”.

Quantifying Health

Health-care systems and their medical institutions don’t practice measuring Health, they search for and quantify symptoms of disease. You don’t walk out of a medical office as, let’s say 95% healthy, you are dismissed as “no symptoms detected”, or “your cholesterol is high” and the associated numbers indicate the risk factor, not the level of healthiness. Medical and biochemical analyses measure the deviation of generally accepted numerical standards, thus any medical check-up amounts to the measurement of disease. This is deemed the objective and reproducible assessment of your health; while the assessment of your Health by analyzing the absence of disease and risk factors is considered far more subjective and ambiguous. Quantifying Ill-health can be done with an undetermined few numbers of tests such as measuring the vital signs; but measuring Health necessarily involves an unlimited number of assessments even beyond the physical realm. Because neither number nor nature of tests required are standardized, and no benchmarks for weighing and interpretation exist; health assessments are frequently dismissed and therefore the stigma of quackery persists.

Quantifying Vitality

As the definition of Vitality is evidently much more user-friendly than that of Health, we might expect the measurement of Vitality to be more conclusive than measuring Health. That is indeed the case, at least when we look at subjective Vitality between persons.

The Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Oxford (1990) did a study to measure Vitality: Subjective perceptions of mental and physical energy were measured by the use of visual analogue scales (VAS) over the course of a week in a group of normal volunteers. These variables were found to correlate, highly both with one another and with assessments of vigor and fatigue measured with a standard adjectival format. In addition, high correlations were found with a measure of positive effect. These five variables also displayed characteristic patterns of diurnal variation. Physical and mental energy, vigor and positive affect were highest in the morning, falling progressively and significantly over the day. In contrast, fatigue showed the opposite pattern. Extraversion showed positive correlations with physical and mental energy, vigor and positive effect, and negative correlations with fatigue and negative effect, most being significant (P less than 0.05). Conversely, neuroticism showed a negative correlation with the first four energy variables but was positively related to fatigue and negative effect, most correlations again being significant. Physical and mental energy, vigor and positive affect also showed a positive correlation (P less than 0.01) with a measure of happiness. It is concluded that VAS-derived ratings of physical and mental energy are reliable indicators of self-perceived vigor and fatigue.

Can we objectively determine Vitality? An interesting technology is emerging and vying for acceptance as credible science. The method is referred to as GDV (Gas discharge Visualization) and several papers by various authors were presented at 18th IEEE Symposium on Computer-Based Medical Systems, 2005. IEEE Proceedings. “The study – by Kononenko, I.; et al, – verifies a hypothesis that GDV in fact measures vitality. For that purpose a limited study was performed and the findings support the hypothesis.” While GDV is a product of modern computer and imaging technology, the underlying method is Image formation in the gas discharge around objects of different nature initiated by strong impulsive electromagnetic field (also called Kirlian effect) is known for more than two centuries. So far the main direction of investigation of the effect was purely practical: it turned out that gas discharge pictures around biological objects could provide substantial information about the internal state of the object. In particular, physicians in many countries actively use the gas discharge images of human fingers and toes nowadays for screening and monitoring of human state.

Most people have seen images of visualization of a person’s energy field, called Aura; and it is indeed this Aura that we perceive as the visualized Vitality. However compelling these Images are, their interpretation lack any standardization; but in the attempt to do so we realize that Vitality is the perceived expression of the sum of physical, mental, spiritual, social, intellectual and emotional Health.


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