Have you ever wanted to know how to keep the doctor away?
Well, with an apple a day, of course!
Ok, maybe not literally.
The idiom goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And, as we know, idioms are not to be taken literally.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away is one of the most common English idioms about health. It reminds us to eat healthily and to think about our food choices. This idiom is from 1913 but is more relevant than ever!
What does this tell us?
That idioms aren’t going anywhere!
If you want to sound more like a native speaker and learn some interesting English, then keep reading. We’re going to explore 15 of the most common health and wellness idioms.
Time to do a little English exercise!
As they say, “A healthy body is a healthy mind!”
Why learn English health idioms?
Like all English idioms, health idioms are a common part of daily speech and conversation.
Idioms are part of what we call everyday English. For example, visiting the doctor, talking to your friends and coworkers or describing something to your family are all situations in which you can use idioms.
And, if you want to sound more like a native speaker, then you should use health idioms! This is because asking about somebody’s health and wellbeing is very common in English. This is especially important if you know someone has been sick or unwell recently. In fact, you’ll note that almost all small talk relates to asking somebody a question about their health.
Conversations between friends in English generally begin with questions such as how are you? and how’s your health? If you can answer with an idiom, then it’s a fantastic way to show your English skills and an important step in your English learning journey. Plus, using idioms is a lot of fun!
Taking a picture quiz is always a great starting point when it comes to learning idioms. This is for two reasons: Firstly, it’s a short and fun exercise that’ll introduce you to some new health idioms. Secondly, it helps you remember these idioms because you’ll associate them with pictures.
Try the quiz below by BBC Learning English to see how many English health idioms you already know!
What types of health idioms are there?
While there are many types of health idioms out there, here are the most common:
Idioms that refer to being healthy/unhealthy: As you can imagine, many of the main health idioms are related to your health or physical condition. They might use vocabulary related to healthy living.
Idioms about medicine: There are lots of health idioms that may use medical language or language related to medical procedures. For example, if you’re having surgery, you might say, “I’m going under the knife” (keep reading for a full explanation of this idiom).
Idioms that refer to one’s fitness: These idioms refer to your health and fitness level. In fact, there’s a whole category of vocabulary dedicated to fitness and exercise for you to discover.
Age idioms: There’s some crossover between age idioms and health idioms. Of course, the two ideas are linked, and you may find that some idioms that refer to age also refer to health. For example, you might say someone has “seen better days,” which means that they’re both old and not in great physical condition.
Here, I’ve compiled some of the most commonly used health and wellness idioms. We’re going to look at their definitions, usage and even a couple of great videos that add context to them.
Learning idioms can be fun and is extremely helpful. However, it can also be frustrating. This is because idioms don’t make sense just by looking at the words alone. We need to understand them through context. There are a few ways to do this, such as by learning with photos or simply using idioms in real life as much as possible.
One of the best ways to learn idioms through context is with native English content. You can do this by using an app like FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “searching,” you’ll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Now, let’s begin our lesson on health idioms!
1. As fit as a fiddle
To be as fit as a fiddle is to be in excellent physical shape or to be very healthy.
“Are you ready for our run this morning?”
“Ready?! I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle.”
As an extra bonus to this idiom, you can learn an interesting piece of vocabulary: fiddle.
A fiddle is a stringed instrument similar to a violin.
To fiddle is also a verb, which means to play with something or change something with your hands. We might also call it fidgeting with our hands.
2. Alive and kicking
This is a great idiom because it can be used to talk about many different things. The basic definition is something that’s (still) functioning in a good way. This can be a person, an object or even an idea! The reason I wrote still in brackets is that alive and kicking often refers to something that’s perhaps old or thought to be useless.
“Do you still have that motorbike you bought in the 1970s?”
“Yeah, and it’s still alive and kicking.”
Here’s another example:
“My grandmother is still alive and kicking at 89 years old. She never slows down!”
3. Under the knife
This idiom sounds a little scary, and, in some cases, it can be. To go under the knife is to have surgery or an operation.
Because of the use of the word knife, the idiom usually implies (suggests) that it’s serious surgery.
“How’s your brother?”
“He’s ok; he’s going under the knife next week to have surgery on his stomach.”
4. Under the weather
Perhaps you noticed that this idiom uses the same preposition as the idiom above. “Under the” is a very common construction with many different uses.
Check out the following video to hear this idiom being used:
Note: You can access interactive captions and a vocabulary quiz by watching this video with FluentU.
In this example, under the weather refers to being unwell, typically with a cold or other small sickness.
“Are you coming to the party tonight?”
“I don’t think so. I’m feeling a bit under the weather.”
5. To be back on one’s feet
If you’re back on your feet, then you’ve successfully recovered from injury or sickness and are feeling better again!
It means to be in good health after a difficult time.
“How was the surgery?”
“It was tough, but it’s great to be back on my feet!”
6. A bitter pill to swallow
This is a great example of an idiom that is figurative. While it refers to a health-related action, i.e., swallowing a pill, the meaning of the idiom is much more general.
A bitter pill to swallow refers to a difficult or uncomfortable realization that someone comes to. It could be accepting a difficult situation or admitting that you’re wrong.
“Realizing that my business was going to lose half its profit was a bitter pill to swallow.”
7. A clean bill of health
A clean bill of health is when a medical professional acknowledges that you’re healthy and free from health-related issues.
This idiom can also be used to refer to a group of people or even to non-human things. For example, you could use it in any situation where somebody with a special authority assesses something and finds it to be good. This could be anything from a car to a natural landscape.
“The local biologist assessed the river and found it to be healthy. He gave it a clean bill of health.”
Here’s a second example:
“The hikers who were lost in the woods for two days received a clean bill of health from the local physician.”
8. A picture of health
If somebody is a picture of health, then they’re in great physical condition. Usually, the idiom refers to somebody who’s in visually great condition. We often use the determiner “the” when using this idiom to describe an individual.
“Have you met my Uncle Paul? He drinks every day, but he’s still the picture of health!”
9. Out of shape
This simple idiom describes somebody who’s physically unfit. It’s perhaps one of the most commonly used health idioms.
This idiom is often used to refer to oneself.
“How was the boxing class?”
“Very tough! I’m pretty out of shape, so I’m surprised I made it to the end!”
In the following video, you might notice that Olaf exclaims, “Man am I out of shape!” after rushing down the mountain. This is another video featured in the extensive FluentU library.
Of course, it’s better to watch the video on the FluentU platform. The interactive captions will ensure that you hear the idiom in context and are able to quickly understand its definition and usage. It’s a more active form of learning and, of course, very fun!
10. To have a spring in one’s step
In this case, we can think of a spring as a kind of upbeat jump or movement. A step simply refers to walking.
To have a spring in one’s step means to be energetic and without worry.
“Did you see Kate this morning?”
“She looked so happy. There was definitely a spring in her step this morning.”
11. To have a new lease on life
A new lease on life refers to a change in attitude and feeling for the better. It covers a number of different feelings, but generally, they’re positive. They relay happiness and enthusiasm for life. This idiom can be considered a health idiom because it refers to a change in mental attitude or outlook.
While not always, the idiom is commonly used to describe a situation in which an event or person has caused a change in somebody else for the better.
We say that this change has been given. Let’s look at an example:
“Meditating every morning has given me a new lease on life. I’ve never been happier!”
Here’s another example:
“After her surgery, she was given a new lease on life and decided to travel the world.”
12. As pale as a ghost
This idiom is a little bit spooky! Okay, not really.
It uses a simile, which is a comparison of one thing to another. Similes are often found in poetry.
If someone is as pale as a ghost, then they’re very pale. Pale is a very light shade of color associated with sickness.
Because of this, the simile has two meanings: You can be as pale as a ghost because of fear or because you’re very sick or nauseous.
“Is he alright? He looks as pale as a ghost. I think he’s going to vomit!”
It’s also common to say that someone has turned white.
13. To have a frog in one’s throat
That’s the sound a frog makes in English.
But what if you have a frog in your throat?
If someone has a frog in their throat, then they’re unable to speak in a clear way. The reason that this idiom is included in this list is that it’s very common to use it when you’re unwell. For example, you may have seasonal allergies or have contracted a cold or the flu, which has led to a change in your voice.
“I’m sorry, but no matter how much water I drink, I can’t get rid of this frog in my throat.”
14. To turn one’s stomach
If something turns your stomach, then it gives you an immediate feeling of nausea or sickness. You can also describe something as stomach-turning. This idiom is commonly (although not always) used to refer to food.
“Even the sight of cheese turns my stomach! I don’t know why.”
You could also use this idiom to refer to a feeling of anger.
The way my boss treats his staff is unacceptable. It turns my stomach!”
15. As sick as a dog
This is perhaps the most commonly used idiom in the entire list. Again, it uses a simile.
As sick as a dog simply means very sick.
It commonly refers to sickness that involves nausea and vomiting.
“I was as sick as a dog after we ate that chicken from the new restaurant last night. I think that something was wrong with it.”
How was that for a brain workout? Hopefully, you’re feeling as fit as a fiddle and ready to take on the English-speaking world with your new set of health idioms. Don’t forget to keep exercising your brain and continuing to learn English idioms. You’ll put a spring in your step for sure!
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