Health science is the branch of science focused on health. There are two main approaches to health science: the study and research of the body and health-related issues to understand how humans (and animals) function, and the application of that knowledge to improve health and to prevent and cure diseases and other physical and mental impairments. The science builds on many sub-fields, including biology, biochemistry, physics, epidemiology, pharmacology, medical sociology. Applied health sciences endeavor to better understand and improve human health through applications in areas such as health education, biomedical engineering, biotechnology and public health.
Organized interventions to improve health based on the principles and procedures developed through the health sciences are provided by practitioners trained in medicine, nursing, nutrition, pharmacy, social work, psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy and other health care professions. Clinical practitioners focus mainly on the health of individuals, while public health practitioners consider the overall health of communities and populations. Workplace wellness programs are increasingly being adopted by companies for their value in improving the health and well-being of their employees, as are school health services in order to improve the health and well-being of children.
Public health has been described as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals." It is concerned with threats to the overall health of a community based on population health analysis. The population in question can be as small as a handful of people or as large as all the inhabitants of several continents (for instance, in the case of a pandemic). Public health has many sub-fields, but typically includes the interdisciplinary categories of epidemiology, biostatistics and health services. Environmental health, community health, behavioral health, and occupational health are also important areas of public health.
The focus of public health interventions is to prevent and manage diseases, injuries and other health conditions through surveillance of cases and the promotion of healthy behavior, communities, and (in aspects relevant to human health) environments. Its aim is to prevent health problems from happening or re-occurring by implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services and conducting research. In many cases, treating a disease or controlling a pathogen can be vital to preventing it in others, such as during an outbreak. Vaccination programs and distribution of condoms to prevent the spread of communicable diseases are examples of common preventive public health measures, as are educational campaigns to promote vaccination and the use of condoms (including overcoming resistance to such).
Public health also takes various actions to limit the health disparities between different areas of the country and, in some cases, the continent or world. One issue is the access of individuals and communities to health care in terms of financial, geographical or socio-cultural constraints. Applications of the public health system include the areas of maternal and child health, health services administration, emergency response, and prevention and control of infectious and chronic diseases.
The great positive impact of public health programs is widely acknowledged. Due in part to the policies and actions developed through public health, the 20th century registered a decrease in the mortality rates for infants and children and a continual increase in life expectancy in most parts of the world. For example, it is estimated that life expectancy has increased for Americans by thirty years since 1900, and worldwide by six years since 1990.
Personal health depends partially on the active, passive, and assisted cues people observe and adopt about their own health. These include personal actions for preventing or minimizing the effects of a disease, usually a chronic condition, through integrative care. They also include personal hygiene practices to prevent infection and illness, such as bathing and washing hands with soap; brushing and flossing teeth; storing, preparing and handling food safely; and many others. The information gleaned from personal observations of daily living – such as about sleep patterns, exercise behavior, nutritional intake and environmental features – may be used to inform personal decisions and actions (e.g., "I feel tired in the morning so I am going to try sleeping on a different pillow"), as well as clinical decisions and treatment plans (e.g., a patient who notices his or her shoes are tighter than usual may be having exacerbation of left-sided heart failure, and may require diuretic medication to reduce fluid overload).
Personal health also depends partially on the social structure of a person's life. The maintenance of strong social relationships, volunteering, and other social activities have been linked to positive mental health and also increased longevity. One American study among seniors over age 70, found that frequent volunteering was associated with reduced risk of dying compared with older persons who did not volunteer, regardless of physical health status. Another study from Singapore reported that volunteering retirees had significantly better cognitive performance scores, fewer depressive symptoms, and better mental well-being and life satisfaction than non-volunteering retirees.
Prolonged psychological stress may negatively impact health, and has been cited as a factor in cognitive impairment with aging, depressive illness, and expression of disease. Stress management is the application of methods to either reduce stress or increase tolerance to stress. Relaxation techniques are physical methods used to relieve stress. Psychological methods include cognitive therapy, meditation, and positive thinking, which work by reducing response to stress. Improving relevant skills, such as problem solving and time management skills, reduces uncertainty and builds confidence, which also reduces the reaction to stress-causing situations where those skills are applicable.
In addition to safety risks, many jobs also present risks of disease, illness and other long-term health problems. Among the most common occupational diseases are various forms of pneumoconiosis, including silicosis and coal worker's pneumoconiosis (black lung disease). Asthma is another respiratory illness that many workers are vulnerable to. Workers may also be vulnerable to skin diseases, including eczema, dermatitis, urticaria, sunburn, and skin cancer. Other occupational diseases of concern include carpal tunnel syndrome and lead poisoning.
As the number of service sector jobs has risen in developed countries, more and more jobs have become sedentary, presenting a different array of health problems than those associated with manufacturing and the primary sector. Contemporary problems, such as the growing rate of obesity and issues relating to stress and overwork in many countries, have further complicated the interaction between work and health.
Many governments view occupational health as a social challenge and have formed public organizations to ensure the health and safety of workers. Examples of these include the British Health and Safety Executive and in the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which conducts research on occupational health and safety, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which handles regulation and policy relating to worker safety and health.