For students: Health and Education

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

I had the honour to be invited last week to give a talk on ‘Health and Education’ to the upper forms of a State Secondary School for girls. However, this is a topic which should be of concern to all students, because there is an intimate link between health and education which may not be immediately evident, but which is real. Properly understood, this can form the basis of lifelong good practice in one’s daily life.

I consider that it is particularly apt that this talk was delivered to girls at the ‘age of reason,’ because they are the ones who are on the way to join the world of work and society at large, and are also future mothers. As such, they will have, more than menfolk, the responsibility of bringing up children, and they should be the ones better prepared to assume this important task in parenting.

What follows is therefore addressed to all students:

The World Health Organisation, which is the apex body for health matters in the world, defines health as ‘not merely the absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.’ In general, youth are free of disease, and they must try to remain that way. Let us consider WHO’s definition:

Physical refers to the material body which is made up of the five elements: earth, water, air, fire (heat) and space. Since ‘you (the body) are what you eat,’ you must have proper food, that is, a balanced diet, adequate and regular exercise either at or after school, avoid tobacco and alcohol which will damage your arteries and other vital organs (heart, lungs, liver) and lead to disease and premature death.

Mental refers to the mind, your instrument of analysis and, along with the intellect, decision making. There is a close relationship between the body and the mind, which can be expressed as follows:
– Unwell body = unwell mind: if you have a bad cold or severe pain from whatever cause, you cannot concentrate on your studies.
– Unwell mind = unwell body: if you receive a piece of bad news or are angry you will not want to eat or drink.
– Well body = well mind: ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ should be your aim. How to attain it? As you feed the body properly, so too must you feed the mind with the good thoughts which come to you through learning, the very purpose of education, and which leads you to knowledge of and about the world, and of yourself too. This is important because only by knowing yourself thoroughly will you be able to relate to others comfortably, without fear or inhibition. Hence the…
Social dimension of health: sound, stable relationships within the family, with friends and, later, colleagues make for happiness. You are then free of the stress and strain that can lead to disease of various kinds.

You can see therefore, how complete and right WHO’s definition is: you cannot truly be healthy until you are physically fit, mentally alert, and socially happy. In this state, you can then give all your attention to developing your potential – and, at its most fundamental, this is what education is all about. Education comes from the Latin ex: out, and ducere: to lead. Therefore, you are led to draw out the best in you, for everybody is good at something, and there is no better person than you who knows what this is. If need be you will discover it with the help of your teacher, who will then be proud to make you become an all-round, productive member of society.

A useful analogy is to consider your body as a new car: how would you treat a new car if it is gifted to you keys in hand? Will you rev it up during the period of rodage and thus strain the engine? Will you put fully-leaded petrol in the gas tank? Will you allow anyone to bang or kick it? Will you dirty it by knowingly driving along muddy, rocky, pot-holed roads? Will you keep it unwashed for days? Will you allow anyone you take in to throw things around and mess up the seats and the inside?

I am sure you know the answer to all these questions: a new car needs a good owner to keep it in good condition, and a driver who knows where to take it too – not like the participant in a car rally who goes in the opposite direction when the shot is fired! And that’s what education does: it makes you a good driver who uses his mind to choose the right direction for his life.

  1. Therefore have a sense of direction: know where you want to go, then only you will reach there. Visualise yourself 5 years from now: what and where will you be? The choice is yours to make, and you have the possibility, if your mind is clear and pure, to choose the good rather that the bad.
  2. And if you think good, talk good, do good all the time, goodness becomes ingrained in you as a habit: you not only do good to yourself, but to others as well. Imagine what this would do to your community and society. Unlike the Boy Scouts, who have to do one good action a day, you will do three, and over a lifetime this will amount to over 50,000 good things. You may see or harvest the result of your goodness, but you need not worry if this does not happen to you personally. Because there is such a thing as an unseen result that may accrue to someone dear to you.
    Years after a doctor’s head-teacher father had given free tuition to someone in need, the latter returned the gesture to the son by refusing to take money from him for medicines which he had come to buy in the pharmacy where the person was the owner – and the head-teacher had already passed away. Nothing is ever lost in the account of life: as you sow so you reap.
  3. The above illustrates that action produces results – which may meet your expectation (get three A’s), be less (two A’s and one B), more (become a laureate), or be opposite to expectation: you fail.
  4. However, the point about failure is not that you have failed – but how high you bounce back after failure. Think of the ball: the harder the ground it hits, the higher it goes up. So let failure be an opportunity to rise higher. Many famous people faced failure initially – but they persevered and became successful. So do not be downhearted if ever you fail: get up and go again, and you will make it.
  5. And for this to happen, you must trust your teacher, and honour your parents who work so hard and make so much of sacrifice to support you.
  6. Keep your mind open for enquiry, for knowledge is superior to belief. Belief is unverifiable, knowledge can be verified. Ignorance breeds fear and apprehension; knowledge removes ignorance and fear: one day some one mistook a rope in the grass for a snake when it was getting dark, when there was slight wind blowing giving the impression of the rope moving. He shouted and broke into cold sweat – until his friends picked up the rope and showed it to him!

So always ask questions: to yourself, your teacher and your friends. Try to understand things and others: understanding is the key to knowledge. Don’t be afraid of knowledge: let it light up your life.

  1. You must therefore read widely, and a variety of subjects and by different people, so that you can appreciate multiple perspectives. And learn from everybody, from anywhere.
  2. Have a passion – but no obsession. You must learn to balance study (and later work) with leisure, and time to spend with family and friends.
  3. Never lose hope: nothing remains the same, everything keeps changing; what goes up must come down, and vice-versa.
  4. Health is your true wealth: the way to health and well-being is through understanding and knowledge. Knowledge is gained by learning – and this is what education is about.
    And put your knowledge into practice; you know that smoking, for example, is bad for health – so don’t smoke! That is why we have a department of health education, information, and communication. So again, education is the key.
  5. Live within your means, don’t worry about what others have or what they do to themselves, you do what is best for you. Best is whatever does not cause harm to your body or disturb your mind, or puts you at odds with everybody around.
  6. Chase excellence and the rest (money, fame, etc.,) will follow.

Take care of your body, train your mind to entertain positive thoughts and to engage in enquiry, and live peacefully amongst your fellow human beings. This way you can never go wrong…

* Published in print edition on 7 May 2011

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