The notion of what it means to be healthy continues to be debated as ideas about what constitutes a ‘good state of health’ have developed over the years. Research has increasingly shown that the drivers of health are facilitated by more than the communication of the absence of illness or by treatments that are not solely based on conventional medicine.

Currently, 70% of deaths globally stem from preventable diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc – mainly factors of choice and behaviour. As a result, society is beginning to pay more attention to the behaviours and environments that contribute to the overall well-being of people to better understand how they can be encouraged to make positive decisions (where possible) around their health.

More recently, health programmes and efforts to promote healthier lifestyles have broadened to incorporate the expanding understanding of the changes and additions to the body of knowledge in the medical field. Terms such as ‘wellness and well-being’, for example, have entered the health lexicon to explain the various aspects of health and care but are misunderstood with respective definitions that overlap in some contexts and do not in others.

By Definition

When most people speak about health they refer mostly to what is experienced physically and determine whether a person is well or unwell by only examining what their physical state presents. It is widely accepted that this is a very narrow way of looking at health when it is known that many other aspects play a role. However, there is a way to distinguish what health is versus wellness and well-being. More importantly, it is to discuss why and when this distinction matters.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2019) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. According to the definition given by the WHO, health encompasses multiple aspects – the “physical, social, economic, environmental”, as well as the individual characteristics of a person from their religion to their economic and social condition.

Although used interchangeably, wellness and well-being often refer to the same condition, an optimal state of health that individuals and groups actively strive towards as a goal. Wellness and well-being, therefore, are about the process, the way in which one achieves their ‘optimal state of health’. Further, the overall well-being of a person is met when they fulfill the potential of the eight dimensions of wellness that include physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, social, and spiritual aspects.

Why It Matters

Looking at the definitions used, the primary difference between health and wellness is that health is the ultimate goal and wellness is the way in which to achieve that goal. The distinction matters because it helps us better understand that in some instances we cannot control our health, however, we can control our decisions about how to act towards an improved state of wellness.

In context the difference between the two would be the following:

Health: Having a predisposition to hypertension or heart disease.

Wellness: Making the choice to eat a more balanced diet and exercise frequently as a way to prevent the onset of the disease.

This example demonstrates the relationship between the two definitions but also shows that to gain health it is necessary to first achieve wellness. Thus, when we set goals for our health we must ask ourselves what are the changes that need to be made in order to make the transformation? Whether it be to lose weight, learn to manage stress, or improve their mental state when people know what it is that they truly want from their health they can work out plans to attain their goals.

Wellness and Success

When people think of their personal and professional lives it is often easy to define success in either space according to what is perceived externally. It is thought that being successful or being happy with a job, money or career must come at the expense of another aspect of a person’s life – a sacrifice – be it family, friends, hobbies, and interests, and increasingly, a person’s mental health. For people to move closer to a more balanced lifestyle they should look to all the dimensions of wellness and reflect on what challenges they face in each area in an effort to find ways to address and overcome these obstacles.

In some cases, it may be an obstacle regarding their physical health due to illness or injury, for others, it may be challenges related to their social environments or relationships due to low self-esteem. The former could be addressed through exercise and engagement with a health practitioner, the latter addressed through the nursing of relationships and friendships that reciprocate positive feedback to build self-confidence.

However, today people understand that to truly become more successful in any part of their lives, although difficult, they must find that balance, which would ultimately make them the most efficient, productive and successful version of themselves.

Workplace Wellness

Typically, people spend more than 8 hours a day working, around 1.5 hours eating and watching TV, and less than 15 minutes exercising in a day (Willis Towers Watson, 2016). When thinking about wellness and well-being, a large part of what enforces any kind of change towards healthier goals depends on the environment that a person is surrounded by and for most individuals this would be their everyday working environments. Each space that we occupy has an effect on our emotions, feelings, and attitudes which in turn has an effect on our self-esteem, self-worth, and our productivity.

In the workplace, it has become evident that companies need to think about how to promote wellness initiatives and programmes for employees as their well-being increases when supported by the right environment, with the right practices and culture.

What Do Wellness Practices Do?

Implementing changes in your life that help to achieve health and wellness goals can be motivated by financial incentives at work or by a goal weight for a celebratory date. Whichever the case, research shows that people who align with some kind of wellness programme or make concerted efforts to maintain set-out behavioural changes found that after a year of commitment individuals would have lowered their medical expenditures and were able to maintain healthier habits than those who did not commit (Mattke, 2017). The positive effects of the commitments were also experienced by the individuals through increases in their physical well-being, mental and emotional health, and lead to increased states of productivity in all areas of their lives.

Going Forward

The cost of turning a blind eye to the growing need to bring people closer to wellness can no longer be ignored. The danger of increasing numbers of lifestyle disease-related deaths is too high as well as too costly, particularly when the deaths are preventable. Environments – whether they be personal spaces or public workplaces – should facilitate an openness for “communication, provide stimulation, improve health and wellbeing, boost morale and productivity” for those who move and work around them (Harmsen Tilney Shane, 2019). In a time where more than money our health is our wealth, it should be a matter of habit that individuals and companies begin to take not only the goal of health but also the way of wellness and those who promote and a facilitate its delivery more seriously. Health practitioners and wellness programmes exist, it is now for people to make the changes day by day that shows the commitment to themselves and their own futures.