What Is the Difference Between Health and Wellness?

(From https://www.issaonline.com/blog/index.cfm/2021/what-is-the-difference-between-health-and-wellness)

Two goals people commonly have are to improve their health and/or improve their wellness. To some, these two terms mean the same thing. Yet, they are very different. Understanding what each one is, as well as their differences, is helpful to creating clear goals and specific training or coaching programs. 

What Is Health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Thus, health isn’t achieved simply by avoiding chronic disease.

This definition requires that a person have both physical health and mental health to be considered healthy. It’s often the mental health portion that is ignored. People understand that regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle promote better health. Yet, they fail to recognize the impact of depression, anxiety, or other types of mental illness. As long as their blood pressure and cholesterol are okay, they think that they are healthy. They don’t realize that poor mental health is a factor. But it is a factor, and it’s one that can lower their overall health status.

The WHO’s definition also incorporates social wellbeing for optimal health. This highlights the importance of relationships when it comes to good health. It is whether you enjoy time spent with loved ones. It also involves interactions in other social circles, such as with friends and co-workers.

If health is a combination of physical health, mental health, and social wellbeing, how is wellness defined?

What Is Wellness?

According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness is “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” This organization goes on to stress that the key word in this definition is “active.” So, wellness isn’t just about passively waiting for optimal health and wellbeing to occur. It involves actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle. 

The other important piece of this definition is “holistic health.” Yes, physical health is part of wellness. But so too are other forms or dimensions of health. There are as many as 12 dimensions of health, according to the institute. The main six are:

  • Physical wellness – encompasses diet, physical activity, adequate sleep, etc.
  • Mental wellness – being creative, problem-solving, and learning
  • Emotional wellness – the ability to express and accept your feelings, also doing the same for others
  • Spiritual wellness – pertains to your meaning and purpose in life, or the pursuit thereof
  • Social wellness – interacting with and connecting with those around you
  • Environmental wellness – living in a hazard-free environment, an environment that adds to your health versus detracting from it

Other organizations recognize additional wellness dimensions. One example is occupational wellness or workplace wellness. This refers to having a healthy wellbeing while at work. Another is intellectual wellness. This is wellness pertaining to your knowledge and skills. There’s also financial wellness and cultural wellness. Suffice it to say that wellness encompasses all areas of life.

Components of Health and Wellness

If you look at each definition, you notice that they have many similar components. Both have an element of physical health, for instance. Both also include a mental health component. And each one addresses the importance of social well being or the connections we have with others.

Thus, each of these components must be satisfied to achieve total health or total wellness. This only makes sense because, though different, the two are deeply connected.

Why Health and Wellness are Connected

The reality is that health can impact wellness and vice versa. For example, if you are faced with a chronic health issue—which is common with older adults—your financial wellness may be affected. Your medical bills or other health care expenses can erode your life savings.  

Wellness can also impact health. If you face a lot of stress at work, you may notice your physical health begin to decline. Or you may come down with an illness that your stressed-out immune system doesn’t have the ability to fight off. 

If your intellectual wellness is reduced, you may not understand how to hit your health-related goals. You have a harder time grasping what you need to do to increase your muscular strength or improve your muscular endurance. Or you miss an important part of the program, increasing your injury risk. This impacts your physical health.

What Is the Difference Between Health and Wellness?

At its core, health is the status of your wellbeing, while wellness is the active pursuit of a healthier wellbeing. This is a critical difference. 

The reason that knowing this difference is important is that, although your health status may represent where you are, your wellbeing represents the actions you can take to get where you want to be. This might involve modifying your diet to eat healthier foods. Or it could include making physical activity a priority or using your company’s wellness program.

The benefit of wellness is that it an active approach. You may have no control over developing cancer, for instance. Yet, you do have control over what you do to live the healthiest life possible with this illness. 

Recognizing this difference helps to limit feelings of helplessness. It serves as a reminder that, even if we can’t control everything, there are still a lot of areas of our lives that we can still influence. This influence begins with changing our behaviors, habits, and actions.

Importance of Developing a Holistic Approach

Taking a holistic approach as an athlete or coach offers many benefits. Humans do not exist in a vacuum. So, when one area of our lives is out of whack, it can impact another area. Our physical health affects our financial health. Our social wellbeing influences our mental health. Every aspect of life is intertwined with life’s other aspects.

In fact, this is the basic premise of holistic medicine. These practitioners believe that true recovery from an illness or disease requires holistic healing. It takes looking beyond the condition itself to consider how other factors may be leading to the health issue. 

It is this type of holistic approach that is leading some companies to create an employee wellness program. These businesses strive to improve employee wellbeing by offering remote work or flexible schedules. Their workplace wellness program might also include help with quitting smoking, teaching stress relief techniques, or other forms of health promotion.

Health coaching is another area that benefits from a holistic approach. A health coach understands the interplay between wellness and subsequent health. A wellness coach knows what types of actions to suggest if the goal is improved health. 

Taking Health and Wellness One Step Further

Of course, everyone is different. So, what helps one person achieve a higher level of health or wellness won’t necessarily work for someone else. One way to help is for people to make the best diet and exercise decisions for them. They need to take a closer look at their genetic makeup. An individual needs to do the research or get with a coach or trainer, who can help them make informed decisions. 

This is what the ISSA and 40+&Fit are about. Please feel free to contact me if you need more information. This is an important resolution.

From the ISSA Website