You might have heard or seen the words health and wellness used interchangeably in conversations, magazine articles, and advertisements. But although they’re related, there are a few critical differences between them.
So what is the difference and why should it matter to you?
In the past, good health was defined as the absence of disease, though the definition of health has been expanded to include a healthy mental state, as well. The definition of wellness is an active concept related to living a healthy lifestyle and achieving your full potential.
Someone could be physically healthy without also being well. Another person could be living with a disease, yet practicing wellness that is enhancing his or her overall health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as, “… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” They define wellness as, “…the optimal state of health of individuals and groups.”
A wellness lifestyle is an active process you engage in to achieve true health in order to experience a fulfilling life.
Health vs Wellness
While health focuses more on diseases, genetics, and illness (and, hopefully, the lack of health problems!), the concept of wellness is focused on digging into all areas of your life to continuously seek balance.
For example, you might be physically fit and free from disease, but your emotional well-being is suffering. Wellness programs address every aspect of life so that you can always be reaching an improved state of health and well-being.
You can also have physical health without enjoying physical wellness. Just because you’re not suffering from a major issue like high blood pressure or running to the doctor for aches and pains doesn’t mean that your body is fit and nutritionally nourished.
We all need to work toward both states in order to get to a place where we are truly healthy and well.
An IAWP Graduate’s Thoughts on Health vs. Wellness
“Wellness incorporates wholism — looking at the whole person. I use a 12-element wellness wheel that incorporates 3 dimensions: the external, internal and symbolic layer of what a person is experiencing. This doesn’t mean that each layer will be in perfect balance always but supporting a client to create harmony out of that helps them get to the root cause of a challenge and understand where triggers are showing up. Health tends to look at just one piece and not the whole person. We can’t look at weight and food and not also look at relationships and careers, for example.”
–Kim Goeltom, Superwoman Wellness Coach & Certified Master Wellness Coach at Creating Legacy Wellness
Here are the major areas of our lives that matter when it comes to following a wellness path.
As mentioned above, you might be disease-free but your physical body might not be truly well. When you choose healthy eating by nourishing your body with whole foods, practicing an exercise routine, and spending time in nature, you’re practicing wellness. This includes all the choices you make about what you put into and do with your body.
Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, and cutting back on sugary, processed foods are also wellness choices that will increase your health. You can include in this list ensuring that you get enough sleep each night, healthy touch with loved ones, and participating in sports or physical activities that you really love.
You might wonder about the difference between mental health and emotional wellness. Mental health is the absence of mental illness, which could include issues like anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. Emotional wellness, on the other hand, is a practice you engage in to increase your overall mental health and emotional well-being.
You might engage in emotional health and wellness by nurturing close relationships, establishing healthy boundaries, and learning to say no when you’re feeling overloaded. You can learn more about healthy relationships, discover ways to increase your positivity, and practice mindfulness.
Even if you have a mental health struggle, you can still practice emotional wellness to increase your overall state of feeling well. It’s important for all of us to do it!
Intellectual wellness is different from emotional wellness in that it is more concerned with how you use your brain. You could take some time to think about how well you’re performing intellectually and if there are practices you could do that could increase your intellectual wellness.
These might include taking up a challenging new hobby such as music lessons, learning a new language, or taking a class at your community college that interests you. It could include reading more books or magazines, attending a conference, or doing crossword puzzles.
Anything that stimulates your intellect and helps you to feel more confident in your ability to solve problems will help you increase your intellectual wellness. This can, in turn, help you reduce your risks for future issues such as dementia!
Focusing on your spiritual wellness is just as important as caring for your body and mind. How connected you feel to the world around you and your experience of a higher power (whatever that means to you) is directly connected to your sense of well-being.
A low level of spiritual wellness can lead to negativity and a sense of hopelessness, causing issues in every other area of your wellness practice.
Engaging in a regular spiritual practice can include attending a spiritual center you love or it might be as simple as getting out in nature for some quiet time.
Mindfulness practices, journalling, having meaningful conversations with others, and attending events that fill you with joy can all be part of a spiritual wellness practice.
We could hypothetically practice every other area of wellness and be very healthy, but without social connections, it wouldn’t lead to true well-being. Your social wellness is vital to being a healthy human being. This means that you practice healthy boundaries, nurture friendships, and take time for social events regularly.
It also doesn’t mean attending social events that don’t fill you up, so learning to differentiate is important for your social health and wellness. Community connections are vital and showing up for community events and causes you care about can increase your social wellness.
Learning when to push yourself to get out with others and when to stay home is key to balancing your social wellness.
This wellness practice can be a challenge, especially if we don’t have a lot of direct control over our environments. As our world becomes more polluted and our homes more toxic, it can leave us with a sense of helplessness. While we can’t control it all, thankfully, there are some things we can do to make our own states of wellness better.
This might include adding an air filtration system to your home and workplace, buying plants, and installing a water filter so you can drink and bathe in truly clean water. Environmental wellness is also about how your spaces feel.
Rearranging your furniture, repainting, and bringing in more natural light can all be ways to improve your environment. Choosing toxin-free paints, organic fabrics, and low-toxin furnishings can also increase your wellness.
Many of us will spend most of our lifetime at work, which means it’s crucial that we give it consideration when building a wellness lifestyle. If you hate your job, are experiencing unresolved tension at work, or are in a toxic work environment, it will profoundly affect your health and well-being.
You might need to change jobs, choose a new career, or simply establish healthy boundaries at work. You don’t need to make drastic changes in order to increase your occupational wellness. But it’s also important to know when it’s time to take care of yourself and do what you need to do in order to feel more joy in your life.
Tips to Improve Your Well-being
In order to help you apply these ideas above, we’ve put together our top tips for improving your well-being. If health and well-being is your goal, engaging in self-care and a wellness lifestyle is your best bet for getting there. Focus on one area of your life at a time so you can make sustainable changes that you’ll be able to maintain throughout your entire life.
Once you’ve improved one area of your life, move onto the next goal. Eventually, you’ll realize that you’ve increased your well-being tenfold. Just don’t forget that wellness is a constant practice and there are always areas of our lives that need to be balanced.
1. Choose Nourishing Whole Foods.
Our bodies crave nourishment and the modern western diet is anything but nourishing. When you eat whole foods, you’re taking in a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your body needs in order to be truly healthy. By getting your food from local farmers and gardeners, you’ll be eating the best food possible while also supporting your community.
2. Commit to a Movement Practice.
Call it exercise if you like, but the overall goal is to move your body every single day. You could join a gym if that’s your thing. Or you can attend yoga classes, start walking with friends, or take up hiking or biking. Find the movement practice that you really love and do that as often as you can. Your body and mind will glow with appreciation.
3. Engage in a Mindfulness Practice.
Our minds are busy 24/7 and they don’t get a lot of time to just be. Mindfulness helps us to decrease depression and anxiety while increasing our mind’s ability to function well. It also helps us to be more spiritually connected to the world around us and to ourselves.
4. Take Time for Sleep and Rest.
Sleeping 7-9 hours every single night is critical for optimal health. Downtime is equally important, so make sure to take time for “doing nothing” regularly. Rest helps you feel energized for everything else in your life. Don’t skip it!
5. Journal Regularly.
If journaling appeals to you, it can be a great way to process thoughts, learn more about yourself, and express your emotions. It’s an excellent tool for emotional wellness and for deepening your spiritual connection. It can also be a wonderfully creative space where you explore your intellectual side.
6. Learn Something New.
It’s easy to get stuck in our routines and comfort zones, but it’s important for us to engage in growth. Take up a new hobby, read a book about a new topic, or say yes to an adventure you’ve never been on before. You’ll challenge yourself in healthy ways.
7. Establish Healthy Boundaries At Work.
Workplaces are notorious for being toxic. Practice wellness at work by creating better boundaries for yourself, whatever that looks like for you. Let your boundaries evolve over time until you feel that you’ve reached a place of well-being at work.
8. Get Involved in a Cause You Care About.
Feeling like you’re making a difference and connecting with your community are key ways to improve your sense of meaning and connection. This is important to your social wellness and sense of purpose in life. Show up for your community and you’ll feel more integrated in others’ lives.
9. Plan a Getaway With a Friend.
Deepening your relationships and engaging in restful downtime are great things to pair together. Plan a weekend with a friend doing what you love. That might mean going away to somewhere new or staying in town, enjoying a leisurely weekend. You’ll feel rested and rejuvenated, helping you to feel more positive and empowered.
Choosing A Wellness Lifestyle to Increase Health
Both the state of our health and wellness are vital to our well-being. Once you understand the difference between the two, you are better able to design goals that work well for you and engage in a dynamic process of change.
At the IAWP, this dynamic process is taught to our students through our holistic wellness system called Wellness 360. The Wellness 360 Wheel is one of the tools that support our coaches and their clients to make lasting wellness changes from a holistic approach.
The great thing about a wellness lifestyle is that it puts you back in control and makes you feel empowered. You’ll start to feel like you do have the ability to influence your health and that you can make a difference in the quality of your life, even if you struggle with genetic issues or health conditions. You have the power to take good care of yourself and choose well-being!