Wellness is big right now. More and more people want to know how to live healthier lives, how to prevent injury, illness, and disability. But what exactly is this wellness everyone’s talking about? Here’s my take.
Squishy terms like wellness are some of my favorites. I also love the equally vague and broad pain and stress (more to come on those). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “not merely the absence of disease [but] a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” So health is a point in time, a state. In contrast, wellness is a never-ending journey towards achieving optimal health (think guiding star, not mountaintop summit). The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines wellness as “concepts that embrace positive health behaviors that promote a state of physical and mental balance and fitness.” Basically, wellness is a set of continuous practices that support optimal health.
Whether you talk about physical, mental, and social wellness as WHO does or include only physical and mental elements like APTA suggests, you are referring to wellness in regards to different aspects of life. I like to think of six categories: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and global. However you slice it, these wellness categories are intertwined and have a huge impact on one another. As a physical therapist I focus on treating the physical body but do not ignore other wellness categories or pretend that my clients are only physical bodies. It’s all connected.
Your most effective wellness plan will not look the same as your mom’s or your best friend’s. We all know we should eat right, exercise, etc., but how that plays out in your life is highly personal. Cookie cutter wellness is ineffective because we all have different needs and inclinations. When I help clients form and maintain wellness habits I emphasize the importance of their own personal style to help them own their lifestyle changes.
Wellness doesn’t just happen to you. Wouldn’t it be nice if it did? In our culture of instant gratification, this can be a downer. Wellness is gradual, requires patience, and consists of small daily decisions to invest in your future health. You get what you cultivate in life.
A health buffer
Choosing wellness means living with your future self in mind. Wellness is a protective shield of prevention that helps mitigate the risk of injury, illness, and disability. Accidents happen. Pain and stress are inescapable. But how you weather these challenges has a lot to do with your wellness. When you experience something that negatively impacts your health, what you’ve deposited in your wellness bank account can lessen the blow and reduce your recovery time. You may have to endure only a few days of cold symptoms versus being laid up for a week. Or maybe you still require a surgical repair but your recovery is speedy and uncomplicated. Maybe you simply get sick, hurt, and overwhelmed less. That’s the difference cultivating wellness can make. It’s never too late to start because you always have the rest of your life to commit to taking care of your life.
Jennifer McGuffey, PT, DPT