Health and wellness are often considered the same thing, yet they have distinct differences. Health relates to your physical functioning, whereas wellness is focused on quality of being in all areas of your life, not just your body. Understanding the difference can help you build both better health and wellness.
You’ve probably heard the terms health and wellness tossed around, often interchangeably. Most people in our society use these words as though they mean the same thing. But there are actually some key differences between the two.
Understanding the difference between health and wellness can help you get clarity on your goals, create a plan that makes sense for you, and start to build a quality of life that is sustainable and that you can do for a lifetime.
So what is the difference between health and wellness? Let’s dive right in.
The Definitions of Health and Wellness
Health is an excellent place to start on your path to wellness. It’s important not to confuse the two however. It’s possible to be in perfect health, yet to not also experience overall wellness. Health is a component of wellness, but wellness is an overarching intention and attention to all areas of your life.
In the past, good health was defined as the absence of disease or infirmity, though the definition of health has been expanded to include a healthy mental state, as well.
Health is focused more on your physical body and how well-functioning it is—or is not. Your health involves the way you eat (your nutrition), how you move your body (exercise), and the absence of acute or chronic diseases.
The definition of wellness is an active concept that describes living a healthy lifestyle and achieving your full potential.
Wellness is more concerned with a lifestyle that produces well-being. A wellness lifestyle is doable whether you have perfect health or you’re struggling with a chronic illness. Wellness is about all aspects of your life, as well — your body, your work, your relationships, your emotional life, and so much more.
Together, health and wellness can help you achieve a high quality of well-being. Focusing on wellness specifically can help you to also achieve good health for a lifetime.
What Is the Difference Between Health and 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 heart disease or running to the doctor for aches and pains doesn’t mean that your body is fit and nourished.
We all need to work toward both states in order to get to a place where we are truly healthy and well.
Examples of health factors might include genetics and heritable health disorders, the environment you grew up in, the local foods available to you, and any current acute or chronic illnesses you’re experiencing.
Examples of wellness factors might include eating intentionally and as clean as feels mentally healthy for you, choosing to move your body every day in joyful ways, working on your issues so you can experience better relationships, and choosing a career that supports your wellbeing and influences those around you in healthy ways.
Before you set out to improve your health and wellness, it can be an effective strategy to go deep into understanding the why behind your goals. Sometimes goal setting and achieving can feel really challenging, so getting clear on your purpose and intention can help you keep with it.
You might ask yourself some questions, such as:
- What are the top 3 sources of my stress and what would it feel like to transform those experiences?
- What is the origin of my dysfunctional eating patterns and have I noticed any particular emotional triggers?
- If I want to lose weight, how will I set myself up for success and create weight loss intentions that are reasonable and sustainable?
- If I’m ready to switch careers to something healthier, what small step goals can I map out to make it feel less scary and more empowering?
- Even if I have a chronic disease, what are the top 5 ways I can nourish myself and make peace with my body?
Getting to the source of experiences is the way of a solid wellness practice. By setting your intentions from a perspective of root cause and building out your plans with that understanding and a lot of grace, you’ll have far more success in the long run.
What are the 3 Dimensions of Health?
There are a number of dimensions of health that could be listed out, but there are 3 primary ones that most people reference when discussing health.
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Emotional health
Most articles on how to improve your health focus on one of these categories. These could include tips for improving your nutrition, physical activity and exercise, getting help with mental issues, or becoming more emotionally intelligent.
These are common themes in health overall, however they don’t fully capture the span of the human experience in the way that wellness does.
The ways in which you experience your body are so important to your overall health and physical fitness. In our society, it’s easy to be checked out from our bodies, always attempting to cover up symptoms and ignore sensations.
Physical health is all about paying attention to your body. To improve your physical health, you might work with a doctor or other healthcare practitioner to identify illness or other issues. You might also just focus on eating a balanced diet and moving your body every day so that you don’t fall into a sedentary lifestyle. Physical health and vitality is a key cornerstone aspect of overall well-being.
While it’s easy to jump straight to eating better and exercising when you think of health, the well-being of your mind is also crucial to overall health. You could take exquisite care of your body, but if you haven’t addressed any mental blocks, mindset hangups, or past traumas, you might not be successful at overall well-being in the long run.
You also nourish your mind through the choices you make in nourishing your body (the mind-gut connection is an important one to learn about!). Mental health is equally as important in your wellness journey as physical health is.
Your emotions are part of your mental health, but they are a specific aspect of mental health to pay attention to. Just because you’ve resolved childhood traumas or poor mental patterns, it doesn’t mean that you’ve become emotionally intelligent.
You will also need to retrain your brain to function in emotionally appropriate ways throughout all of your present day life and beyond. Taking good care of your emotions can have a huge impact on your ability to achieve well-being
What are the 12 Dimensions of Wellness?
Wellness is a far more broad spectrum that includes all aspects of being alive. By creating “health” in every aspect of wellness, you’ll find yourself improving your life, your body, and your overall well-being. You’ll find a new dimension of health and wellness that you might have never thought possible before.
These dimensions of wellness include:
Some interpretations of wellness don’t include all of these elements or may try to combine them together, but we feel that this is the most comprehensive, holistic way to think about wellness. At the IAWP, we combine these 12 elements into our unique Wellness 360 System to create the most inclusive view of wellness possible. We also go much deeper into each element and explore them across three layers and 36 dimensions of the self (more on that later!)
For now, let’s jump in to what they mean so you can better understand how to work on your wellness.
Wellness Dimension 1: Body
Your body is how you interact with the world around you, so it’s important to keep it in as good a shape as possible. This dimension includes what you put into your body and what you do with the outside of your body as well. This can include nutrition, movement and exercise that feels good for you, the products you use on your skin and hair, supplements and products you use to improve your body, and your overall upkeep and perspective of your body.
Wellness Dimension 2: Food
Nutrition is a tricky puzzle to solve, especially as we’re all biochemically, environmentally, and genetically unique. But it’s one of the most important ways to improve how your body feels and functions. Understanding what makes you feel great, what you love to eat, and how to prepare foods that are nutritionally dense is the key to using food as your superpower toward wellness.
Wellness Dimension 3: Rest
Our society is a go-go-go culture, focused on productivity and the neverending to-do list. But our bodies and minds aren’t built to exist like that. We need rest and lots of it. Rest is a crucial part of wellness, because when we are resting our body can detox, repair, and heal. We need rest to feel our best, whether it’s in the form of sleep, relaxation, or time away from work. It all matters for our well-being.
Wellness Dimension 4: Water
The way we hydrate really matters to how our bodies function. Water is one of the biggest elements in our bodies, so what is in the water really matters. Additionally, water is symbolic for the ways in which we flow with life mentally and emotionally. The liquids that you put into your body can make or break your health, along with the food you eat.
Wellness Dimension 5: Sun
While our culture has become relatively sun-phobic, the truth is we are solar powered in similar ways to other living beings — we need the sun! The sun helps us to make vitamin D in our bodies, it helps our circadian rhythms to become regular which helps us to feel awake during the day and sleepy at night. The sun is also symbolic of our powerful energy and ability to be authentic. Understanding how the sun, both literally and metaphorically, fits into your life is crucial to well-being.
Wellness Dimension 6: Air
We are constantly breathing air in and out of our lungs. Often the air we’re around is full of toxic substances, which doesn’t help us in our wellness journey. We can’t control the air everywhere we go, but we can work on better quality air in our home, workplaces, and the spaces we spend time in. Air is also symbolic of our ability to be flexible and let go. Cleaning up our relationship with air helps us to improve our wellness in important ways.
Wellness Dimension 7: Mindset
Mindset, or intellectual wellness, is about your mental and emotional intelligence, as well as the physical care of your brain. To experience well-being, working on your relationship with your mental and emotional health is crucial. That said, the brain as a physical organ is also important to nourish, which includes the gut-brain health interaction as well.
Wellness Dimension 8: Career
We spend so much of our days working at a job. Often, our work is a huge part of our identities, as well. What you choose to do for a career can have a huge impact on your wellness. If you spend time in a toxic work environment, at a dead-end job, or in a career that makes you feel inauthentic, you’ll find yourself engaging in habits that hurt your body and mind. Breaking out of this toxic cycle means doing work you love, with people who treat you well, and with an identity that feels good to you.
Wellness Dimension 9: Relationships
Our relationships and social circles are a huge part of being human and we spend a lot of time identifying with the people we love, are bonded to, and who make up the community that surrounds us. This includes intimate partner relationships, close family, friends, co-workers, and your wider circle of acquaintances. Ensuring that you’re engaging with people in healthy ways means that you’ll feel better with your relationship with yourself. How you structure your relationships can make or break your overall well-being.
Wellness Dimension 10: Finances
Money is a challenging topic for so many people. But it’s so important to feel empowered, confident in your life, and free to make choices that feel right for you — and money can help in the journey to achieve those goals. Lots of people avoid the topic at all costs, but that avoidance can have a hugely negative impact on our well-being and ability to engage in all other aspects of wellness. Focusing on improving your finances and having a healthy relationship with how you get and use money can drastically improve your ability to create well-being in your life.
Wellness Dimension 11: Spirituality
The physical realm is so important to wellness, but our relationship with spirituality is also crucial. Spiritual wellness means any kind of way you go about your life that feels purposeful, meaningful, and imbued with a sense of belonging. That can mean anything from a religious practice, community or individual spiritual practices, or simply participating in mindfulness and gratitude. Whatever makes sense for your beliefs, well-being needs, and a sense of deep fulfillment will help you move the needle on your wellness journey.
Wellness Dimension 12: Purpose
Being a human being alive on the planet today is a pretty expansive and simultaneously difficult experience. That’s why having a sense of purpose is so important to anchoring yourself to your life and feeling as good as you possibly can feel. Purpose is an abstract concept, yet when you have it you feel it so strongly. Grounding yourself in your purpose helps drive all aspects of wellness, as it gives you meaning as you go about caring for yourself.
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 and Exercise Regularly
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 and mental exercise 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. If it’s time for a career change, come up with a doable strategy to help you move toward work that feels healthier and more purposeful.
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 our coaches use to support and guide their clients to make lasting wellness changes from a holistic approach.
The IAWP is the only holistic wellness coaching organization that combines 12 different elements of wellness, through three layers of well-being, across 36 dimensions of the self…into one comprehensive approach to well-being. Our unique, multi-dimensional approach looks at more aspects of a person’s life than any other system.
It teaches both students and coaches to consider not only how things like our physical, emotional, and spiritual health are interconnected but how our approaches to finances, relationships, air, water, and more shape our lives and well-being.
The great thing about a lifestyle based on Wellness 360 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 life, and that you can make a difference in the quality of your life, even if you struggle with genetic issues, health conditions or even old patterns of thinking that weigh you down. Wellness 360 is a roadmap that you can customize and use for a lifetime.
Know this, you have the power to choose well-being and change your life!