Here is a question that confronted me on my first day of class in chiropractic school: Where does health come from? To answer the question, we should first discuss the definition of health.

When asked, most people answer that being healthy is feeling good. This seems logical, but it is not. Let us dig deeper. If you lay your hand on a hot stove, do you want it to feel good? Pain can be our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Pain can also present when we are healing from an ailment, like surgery or a broken bone. Even after their first chiropractic adjustment, a person can feel sore. The body has to get used to holding the spine in alignment after an injury, or after years of misalignment. Feeling bad is good in these cases. It is healthy.

Symptoms of cancer often do not show up until years, or even decades, after the disease has taken hold. Sometimes people who are diagnosed with cancer have felt good for decades prior to their diagnosis. In this case, too, feeling good is not an indicator of health.

So what is health? Health is function. When your body is expelling a virus through unpleasant means, like mucous or diarrhea, you are expressing health. You are healthy when your body does what it is supposed to be doing, when it is supposed to be doing it.

Where does health come from? Does it come from a pill? Can you insert it or remove it? Often, medical care, what is called “health care,” is actually sick care. Waiting until you experience symptoms to take care of yourself is reactive, not proactive. Real health care is regular exercise and good diet (you know — veggies, protein, dairy, fiber … ). Real health care is stress relief and good sleeping habits.

Health care, or taking care of your health, involves positive lifestyle habits. As a holistic doctor, what I do is sometimes sick care and sometimes health care. Those who come to me to maintain the function of the spine and nervous system are practicing health care. Those who come in only to fix a problem are practicing sick care.

Health comes from you. It’s something you are born with. It is innate. Sometimes you may need medical intervention, but consider this: Even as you are taking a medication or are on the mend from surgery, your body’s innate ability to heal is what enables you to recover.  I encourage you to be proactive in your health care. If you are, you will find yourself practicing sick care much less.

Dr. Meghan R.L. Palmer is a chiropractor and freelance writer in Rogersville, Tenn.