Medical Author: Rohini Radhakrishnan, ENT, Head, and Neck Surgeon
Medical Reviewer: Shaziya Allarakha, MD
People often use the terms health and wellness interchangeably. Although a person cannot have one and not the other, they are two different concepts that are quite variable, and their meanings are different.
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 (illness).”
WHO defines wellness as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups,” and wellness is expressed as “a positive approach to living.”
The primary difference between health and wellness is that health is the goal, and wellness is the active process of achieving it. You truly cannot have health without first achieving wellness. Wellness has a direct influence on overall health, which is essential for living a robust, happy, and fulfilled life.
Health versus wellness
While you cannot choose the state of health, you can consciously choose wellness by living your life responsibly and taking proactive steps for your well-being.
- Health comprises the diagnosis of a disease/illness, predisposition to a disease, and any unexpected injury.
- Wellness is an active process of growth and changes to reach your fullest health and well-being. It is associated with actively pursuing activities, making choices and lifestyle changes, controlling risk factors that can harm a person, focusing on nutrition, having a balanced diet, and following spiritual practices that lead to holistic health.
Risk factors are actions or conditions that increase a person’s risk of illness or injury. Some of the risk factors that can be harmful to good health are as follows:
- Smoking: It is a major risk factor for lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
- Drinking alcohol: It can cause liver damage, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
- Unprotected sex: It spreads sexually transmitted diseases, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Extreme physical activity/sports: This may lead to broken bones and other types of injuries.
How many dimensions of wellness are there?
Wellness is more than just physical health; it is holistic and multidimensional. It comprises six dimensions that include physical, intellectual, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual wellness.
- Physical: Physical wellness increases physical fitness—by being physically fit, a person would have an enhanced ability to prevent illness and diseases. Exercise stimulates a healthy mind and body. A sedentary lifestyle can be avoided by increasing physical activity in everyday life, such as walking, cycling, walking the dog, taking steps, and hiking. Having good nutrition, eating a balanced diet, drinking sufficient water (eight glasses per day), and getting adequate sleep to promote a person’s physical wellness.
- Intellectual: Mental exercise and engagement through learning, problem-solving, and creativity support intellectual wellness and promote a better attitude. People who learn new things and challenge their minds can avoid mental health problems.
- Emotional: A person with emotional wellness can deal with stressful situations. A person who is aware of their own feelings, has good self-esteem, and has empathy toward others’ feelings would have emotional wellness.
- Environmental: Awareness of the role we play in improving our natural environment rather than denigrating it, and maintaining and living in a healthy physical environment free of hazards promotes wellness.
- Social: Social circles and support networks are invaluable to the overall well-being of a person. Relating, interacting, and contributing to a community, establishing good interpersonal relations, and maintaining long-term relationships with family and friends keep a person happier and healthier.
- Spiritual: Spiritual wellness does not imply religion or faith of a person, but the search for meaning and purpose of human existence. Developing compassion, caring, forgiving, and having a purpose in life help in spiritual wellness. This can be achieved through meditation, volunteer work, spending time in nature, etc.
On one end, patients with poor health engage the medical fraternity to treat illnesses. On the other end, people focus proactively on prevention and maximize their vitality. They adopt lifestyles that improve health, prevent disease, and enhance their quality of life and sense of well-being. Wellness is proactive, preventive, and driven by self-responsibility for healthy living.