Vitality (from Middle French vitalité, from Latin vītālitās, from Latin vīta 'life') is the capacity to live, grow, or develop. Vitality is also the characteristic that distinguishes living from non-living things. To experience vitality is regarded as a basic psychological drive and, in philosophy, a component to the will to live. As such, people seek to maximize their vitality or their experience of vitality—that which corresponds to an enhanced physiological capacity and mental state.
The pursuit and maintenance of health and vitality have been at the forefront of medicine and natural philosophy throughout history. Life depends upon various biological processes known as vital processes. Historically, these vital processes have been viewed as having either mechanistic or non-mechanistic causes. The latter point of view is characteristic of vitalism, the doctrine that the phenomena of life cannot be explained by purely chemical and physical mechanisms.
Prior to the 19th century, theoreticians often held that human lifespan had been less limited in the past, and that aging was due to a loss of, and failure to maintain, vitality. A commonly held view was that people are born with finite vitality, which diminishes over time until illness and debility set in, and finally death.
In traditional cultures, the capacity for life is often directly equated with the soul or breath. This can be found in the Hindu concept prana, where vitality in the body derives from a subtle principle in the air and in food, as well as in Hebrew and ancient Greek texts.
According to Jainism, there are ten vitalities or life-principles:
According to major Jain text, Tattvarthsutra: "The severance of vitalities out of passion is injury". Because life is to be considered sacred and in every living thing, Jains avoid killing any living creature. They are not only vegetarian, but decline to eat vegetables that grow under the ground because each underground stem contains infinite number of vitalities each of that can potentially grow into full-fledged plants. The table below summarizes the vitalities that living beings possess in accordance with their senses:
|Number of vitalities
|Sense organ of touch, strength of body or energy, respiration, and life-duration.
|The sense of taste and the organ of speech in addition to the former four.
|The sense of smell in addition to the former six.
|The sense of sight in addition to the former seven.
|The sense of hearing in addition to the former eight.
|Mind in addition to the above-mentioned nine vitalities.
Low vitality or fatigue is a common complaint by older patients. clarification needed] and may reflect an underlying medical illness. Vitality level was measured in 2,487 Copenhagen patients using a standardized, subjective, self-reported vitality scale and was found to be inversely related to DNA damage (as measured in peripheral blood mononuclear cells). DNA damage indicates cellular disfunction.[
In the Western tradition, at least since the time of the ancient Greeks, physicians, philosophers, and lay practitioners have advocated diverse means to obtain a long and healthy life.
In the case of human beings, controversy has long raged between those who interpret vitality mechanistically as the energy derived from food and oxygen intake and those who support theories of vitalism, a doctrine that the origin and phenomena of life derive from a vital principle as distinct from a purely chemical or physical force.
Until the nineteenth century, writers often harked backed to a primitive past, when ancient patriarchs supposedly counted their days in centuries rather than years. Pointing to a loss of vital energy as the cause of old age decay, they searched for the means to maintain the body in an active state, uncorrupted by a loss of vitality.
According to this widely accepted model, at birth an individual was endowed with a finite amount of vitality. During childhood, the body used this vital energy for growth and activity. By adulthood, it did well to maintain its supply. With old age, however, the amount of vital energy was clearly in decline. The obvious result was the elderly individual's tendency toward increasing illness and general debility.
For many cultures, spirit is simply "aliveness," the vital principle that animates all living things, from plants to humans, and is itself conceived as a kind of material substance. In both Homer and the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, the words spirit and breath are used interchangeably.
Such a view is similar to the Polynesian concept of mana and the Hindu concept of prana, a subtle principle in the air and in food that is transformed into kundalini, energy in the body.