Defining Health and Wellness

The terms health and wellness possess a number of definitions among different regions of the world, the cultures within them, and the individuals who make them up. In fact, health and wellness can be found to mean something strikingly different from one person to the next, especially when you ungroup the two and define them separately. For me, defining health and wellness is not so brief, although the World Health Organization (WHO) summarized quite nicely what I believe it to contain. WHO describes this attribute as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease” (WHO, 2012). I personally take the biopsychosocialspiritual (BPSS) approach to explaining what health and wellness are to me. This is to say that a person achieves health and wellness when they properly attend to their biological (physical) needs, have a positive outlook on life, manage and maintain their mental health by any means necessary, find the importance of balancing the social aspects within their life (family, work, friends, hobbies and so forth) and remain dedicated to their morals, ethics, and spiritual beliefs.

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to audio submissions from seven people explaining what health and wellness meant to them. I also, out of curiosity, asked two of my family members to share with me their definition, to which I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they both believed health and wellness to signify physical and mental well-being, taking care of the self through proper diet, exercise, activity, rest, and an openness to emotional needs. Out of the seven audio submissions there were only two that reflected similar meaning. Joey stated that this to him represented physical fitness, a proper diet, and a mind clear of negativity. And Joshua explained his definition as taking complete care of the self, a balance between work, family, and daily living interactions. The remainder of the participants all possessed heavy focus on the physical body, negative body image, and maladaptive relationships with food.

I found it interesting that there was such a heavy focus on what can be considered the public health model (Donatelle, 2017), or, the negative health aspects were explained as being a result of, or caused by interaction with a person’s social and physical environment by way of the media and its exploitation of what a physically healthy and beautiful body looks like. Equally intriguing was the lack of any mention of disease as described by the medical model (Donatelle, 2017). Further, I found it odd that there wasn’t any mention of interpersonal relationships, protecting oneself from harm or hazard, having a sense of purpose, feelings of content, belief in a supreme being, or religious affiliations (Donatelle, 2017).

The fact is that health, wellness, and well-being refers to the person as a whole not just the distinction that they are lacking disease, either physical or mental (Kirsten, et al. 2009). Healthy People 2020 identifies four crucial goals for developing levels of health that are noted as: “attaining high-quality, longer lives free of preventable diseases; achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve health of all groups; create social and physical environments that promote good health for all; and promote quality of life, healthy development, and healthy behaviors across all life stages (Donatelle, 2017., 2012).

This lack of balance and attention to the entire being that I heard in most of the participants definitions can become detrimental on many levels. When there is too little attention to our physical needs and we lead a sedentary life because we don’t have a well-balanced life-style we can be faced with food addiction, obesity, poor blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and so on. With too much attention on the physical body we can develop body dysmorphia, eating disorders, improper organ functioning, joint problems, or injury. Poor nutrition is a direct contributor to physical and mental health disease and disorders. Improper mental health care, or emotional self-care leads to anxiety, depression, excessive and/or addictive use of controlled substances, and even death by suicide. A lacking social life and the absence of hobbies create isolation, and feelings of loneliness and abandonment. And finally, the inability to see purpose and meaning in life produce a sense of having a lack of direction, motivation, and personal value.

So, when contemplating change in the direction of health and wellness it makes complete sense to me that as the human being is a complete compilation of mind, body, spirit, so too should the approach include a holistic approach that is multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary (Kirsten, et al. 2009) in order to meet all biological, psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

Published by Tricia Parido


Donatelle, R. J. (2017). Health: The basics: Mastering health edition (12th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson. Chapter 1, “Accessing Your Health

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