In ancient time’s healthcare was always associated with both the physical and the emotional well being of man as well as his social and educational environments. Today, the advent of medical science and the new medical technologies has led to an emphasis on ‘centralised services’ and on ‘physical and biochemical illness’, which promote a dependency on ‘pharmaceutical and operative cures’ that are based on ‘proven’ knowledge and on ‘specialised’ expertise. There has been a rejection of ‘nature’s healing power’, and of ‘human empathy’ both of which can not readily be quantified or scientifically evaluated. There has also been a turning away from dealing with ‘the whole man’ in the totality of his environmental, spiritual and socio-cultural contexts.
The nature of man has not however changed and the ancients recognised that an agreeable and healthy environment influences health and wellbeing through its affects on the physical as well as the mental and emotional state of individuals. Man needs a contact with the natural world even if its just his own garden, his household plants or a companion pet and many of the ancient ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle are now becoming more and more regarded as being beneficial to his well being. Man is also a ‘worshipping’ creature whether he places his trust in his ‘carers’ or in ‘the fates’ or ‘the gods’, or in the one God, or in evolutionary science, or market forces or job-career prospects. Modern lifestyles place 'stresses' on every aspect of bodily and mental functions and the ‘health promoting guidelines’ laid down by the ancient Asclepieions have much to say to our present and future generations.
Despite the good progress that has been made in the modern world, in having food, shelter and sanitation as well as employment and entertainment, there are still large populations and segments of populations that live in very difficult circumstances. It is also not unusual to find environmental and social factors that adversely affect everyone, even those who live in developed societies, which are technologically advanced and affluent. "Time and chance happen to all men" and ‘disadvantage’ occurs in every society so that the totalities, which influence the quality of life, concern us all.
The ancient Greeks had the saying 'Ķļõņ õćéŽņ åķ óžģįōé õćéŽ', meaning "A Sane Mind in a Sane Body" (in Latin, ‘Animus Sani in Corpus Sani’). Despite the WHO definition of Health, this wisdom of maintaining bodily and mental ‘fitness’ (wellness), has been lost in the way that societies have now become organised and in the way that our cities have been structured. There is a current neglect of the environmental promoters of well being and the integrated services that can provide high quality health and wellness programmes as well as the enjoyment of the arts, entertainment and creative pursuits. The barriers of separation that have grown up between the different societal organisations and systems involved are now a major cause for concern.
Health maintenance (wellness) is a focus that can only be pursued in such a multiple and yet integrated service context. It requires to be addressed as part of the total elements that impinge on man’s welfare and therefore as part of the overall facilities provided for all. It is significant that the ancients regarded our well being to be related to the activities of the sports, leisure and entertainment industries. The activities concerned are now well known to be good promoters of health and to be beneficial to maintaining both our bodily as well as our mental fitness. In this context it is not only the activities, which are important. The buildings that are used for these purposes and the access to them are part of the city’s environment and the concept of ‘beauty’ in both art and architecture and in the design of facilities are all important to our wellbeing. Such factors include the provision of pedestrian areas and walkways and of transport systems that reduce traffic density and air pollution.
The wisdom of the ancients has suggested ‘a model’ whereby an agreeable and healthy environment, which best promotes bodily health and mental fitness, can be provided by combining the benefits of the natural world with the riches of well planned socio-cultural and health related facilities. In today’s world, this model of the ‘Asclepieion Parks’ could be used to provide the enjoyment of the natural environment and the architectural design of our cities. They could also combine these health promoters with the facilities to provide the high quality and effective services that keep us healthy and that treat our disorders as well as engendering our ‘trust’ by being tailored to the wholeness of man and by being brought within the reach of everyone. Apart from health benefits these environmental features and holistic services play a vital role in developing our life’s quality. They also span the elements of city planning, education (information and knowledge) and appreciation (worship), all of which have an important part to play in the balanced development of the healthy society.
Modern Asclepieions would re-structure the green-areas of our cities so that they act as ‘meeting places’, which are accessible to everyone and that combine all the facilities to provide for our health and welfare. In this way all individuals could be exposed to an holistic approach to the quality of their life and at the same time they could have access to integrated services that are without the structural and conceptual boundaries imposed by current societal systems. The new information and communications technologies (ICT’s), make this possible and can support the provision of such services in the home for those with mobility problems but ‘outside the home’ interaction should be encouraged to obtain the maximum ‘wellness’ benefit. Facilities for children, families, the elderly and the disabled are therefore needed.