The concept of wellness is relatively new and is a mystery to some people. It is often confused with health even though the two terms are not synonymous. Yet most of us want to be well and healthy.
But what exactly is the difference between health and wellness?
The primary difference between health and wellness is that health is the goal and wellness is the active process of achieving it. Knowing the distinction between the two matters for a number of reasons, including by recognizing while we cannot always choose the state of our health, we do have the conscious choice to make active decisions towards wellness.
Being healthy refers to being disease free, both physically and mentally. Some of the ways to be healthy include exercising, eating nutritious food, avoiding foods that cause disease, maintaining normal blood pressure, reducing our body fat, maintaining proper weight, getting sufficient sleep every day, not smoking, avoiding harmful substances like drugs, limiting alcohol intake, taking medication, etc.
Defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Wellness, on the other hand, is more all-encompassing. It involves various aspects of well-being, specifically physical, emotional, occupational, spiritual, social, environmental, and intellectual. It includes physical health, but it also is so much more than that.
True wellness is not a state we reach. Rather, it is a balance we try to maintain. Exercising, stopping smoking, or losing weight will make you healthier, but it does not mean that you are well in the ‘wellness’ sense. You can be healthy (free of disease) but also have other areas of your life that are out of balance, meaning that you are not truly well.
The WHO defines wellness as “the optimal state of health individuals and groups” and is also expressed as “a positive approach to living.” And according to Merriam-Webster, wellness is “the quality of state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal.”
Cohesively, wellness is an active and dynamic process of change and growth to reach one’s fullest potential and aims to enhance overall wellbeing.
Wellness incorporates the power of choice, meaning an individual has the ability to take action towards optimal health. The individual creates the proper environment for a healthier lifestyle. Wellness is not a passive or static state but rather an “active pursuit” that is associated with intentions, choices and actions as we work toward an optimal state of health and wellbeing. Wellness is linked to holistic health—that is, it extends beyond physical health and incorporates many different dimensions that should work in harmony. Wellness is an individual pursuit—we have self-responsibility for our own choices, behaviors and lifestyles—but it is also significantly influenced by the physical, social and cultural environments in which we live.
There is an understanding that there is no quick fix for optimal health, that the path of health is an infinite journey. To reach an optimal state of health and wellness, the individual has to appreciate that the body is a three-dimensional being. Body, mind, and spirit are woven together as one. The following are the key threads of the fabric of wellness, well being and health
Physical: A healthy body through exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.
Mental: Engagement with the world through learning, problem-solving, creativity, etc.
Emotional: Being in touch with, aware of, accepting of, and able to express one’s feelings (and those of others).
Spiritual: Our search for meaning and purpose in existence, appreciation of finer aspects in life, yoga, chanting, reading spiritual texts, etc.
Social: Connecting with, interacting with, and contributing to other people and our communities.
Environmental: A healthy physical environment free of hazards; awareness of the role we play in bettering rather than denigrating the natural environment.