The passing of a love one almost always jumpstarts a period during which you evaluate your own life. Because of my recent bout with cancer, I’d just done this and feel as if I’m on the right course. Losing my sister just reiterates what I already know.

I want to live.

I want to live and not just exist. I want health in all aspects of my life: physically, emotionally, mentally, and creatively. That means  responding positively to the people around me and the situations I’m in, achieving and maintaining a weight I feel good at and that allows me to be active, sustaining my mental abilities and keeping my creative well flowing.

I think it is up to each individual to discover what defines health for them in the different aspects of their lives. Some people can’t be emotionally or mentally healthy without music. Others hike or climb mountains for their physical and emotional well-being.  As I near the half century mark in my life, I’m self-aware enough to know that, for me, emotional, mental and creative health is based on the health of my body. That isn’t to say that I can’t be creative and mentally healthy while my body is not—I wrote three books while battling cancer and it was one of the most creative times of my life—but creative health is only one aspect of my life and to feel good in all of them, I must start with the body.

I came to running late in my life and it has helped in every aspect of my well-being. Watching my sister struggle for air in her last moments, (COPD), reminds me of how long I smoked and took health for granted. Never again. I know it sounds crazy, but my lungs feel sparkling clean for hours after a run, as if I’ve scoured out all the nasty deposits from years of tar, nicotine and environmental toxins. I’m mentally sharper and feel good in spite of the aches. Running has also made me more aware of my food choices and I’ve become an excellent home cook with a strong belief that food should be delicious, healthy and as clean as possible. I’ll never be a competitive runner—my times might improve a bit, but not much, and I can’t see myself running much more than five or six miles at a time, tops— but that’s okay.

Running, like writing, cooking and teaching, helps me live the kind of full, successful and healthy life I want to live. What does health mean to you? What are you doing today to achieve that health?