Most of us have used a dictionary repeatedly throughout the years, while the thesaurus sits there next to it, collecting dust. But, when you think about it, a thesaurus is a truly important reference book. It’s not just because it can make that complaint letter or email you’re working on sound more flowery and intelligent. More importantly, it can help us learn more about what’s involved in certain words and concepts we probably take for granted.
Let’s explore one example from our trusty thesaurus: the word “healthy.”
What you probably think of when you hear “healthy”
If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “healthy,” your thoughts turn to a few core definitions or images:
- Without disease
- Good for you
All of those are accurate definitions of the word, and they’re important to the bigger concept of health. But, they’re also pretty limiting when you start to dig a little deeper. For example, to define “healthy” as “without disease” is equivalent to defining “peace” as “without war.” It’s accurate, but it’s only one small part of what “peace” actually involves.
Similarly, labeling certain foods or activities as “healthy” because they’re generally “good for you” makes sense. But, it misses a lot of nuance and variation in how those foods, activities, or habits will impact the health of each individual.
Finally, “athletic” isn’t quite right either, since true health involves a lot more than your ability to run a mile or dunk a basketball.
So, let’s dive a little deeper into the concept of what “healthy” means with the help of our trusty thesaurus:
What “healthy” involves according to the thesaurus
According to Thesaurus.com, the term “healthy” has no less than 43 different synonyms. Some of them fall in line with the three definitions described above, but most of them go well beyond those ideas and even branch out in unexpected directions. We won’t analyze all 43 terms, but as we look at five of them, think about what they can teach you about your own view of health and being healthy.
A healthy person is an active person, and vice versa. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults aged 18-64 strive to “do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.”
But, that’s just a minimum. “For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.”
What can you expect to gain by following those recommendations? According to WHO, people who regularly achieve those levels of activity:
- have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancer, and depression;
- are likely to have less risk of a hip or vertebral fracture;
- exhibit a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness; and
- are more likely to achieve weight maintenance, have a healthier body mass and composition.
Not to be confused with “hardy” — which refers to strength or toughness, and is also on the list — the term “hearty” means to be energetic and enthusiastic. And, there’s plenty of clinical evidence linking healthy levels of activity with increased energy levels and positive feelings.
For example, studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins — the “feel-good” chemicals — into the bloodstream, boosting your mood. And, improved cardiovascular health combined with better sleep — both direct results of regular exercise — will naturally lead to more energy throughout the day. There’s even a strong connection between healthy activity and lower instances of anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional challenges.
This facet of being healthy goes beyond the individual, too. When you think about it, these are personality traits that draw us to others and are often contagious in a positive way. When someone else is energetic, it’s a pick-me-up for people around them. And enthusiasm about a project, activity, or life in general will often bring out similar feelings in others who might not otherwise feel that way.
So, in this case, it’s healthy for everyone.
Let’s get back to the term “hardy” which, along with “strong” and “tough,” is synonymous with “healthy.” This one is really a no-brainer when you stop to think about it, but many people don’t.
That’s because the sort of exercise we most often correlate with healthy activity is aerobic in nature: running, swimming, biking, etc. But, that’s really only half of what your body needs to support a long, healthy life. You also need to develop and maintain strong muscles and joints if you’re going to enjoy mobility and quality of life into old age.
The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, now recommends that children include muscle- and bone-strengthening activity into their routine at least three times a week, and adults do so at least twice a week. Nutrition is important too, of course, as an adequate level of protein in the diet is necessary to support muscle growth, and various micronutrients like calcium and Vitamin D are vital for strong bones.
Safe and sound
When you start putting together in your mind all the aspects of being “healthy” as described above, it makes a lot of sense why the term “safe and sound” is also in the list of synonyms. After all, a healthy lifestyle is directly connected with avoiding dangerous conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and therefore means you’re likely to live longer.
In addition, if you’re eating right, getting strong, and staying active, your immune system is going to be stronger, too. That means you’ll be better able to recover from injury, stave off minor illnesses, and generally feel better every day.
So, being healthy means being both safe and sound.
Full of life
When you look good and feel good, life is good. When you’re energetic and enthusiastic, safe and sound, and generally exude all these good feelings to everyone around you, life is even better. And, when you can look forward to these effects lasting well into old age, you can truthfully be described as full of life.
That’s why “full of life” is the perfect synonymous term to end on: it’s the end result — and, really, the whole goal — of being healthy.