When we talk about health and wellness, we usually assume that they are synonymous with each other. However, did you know that they are not necessarily the same thing? “Health” is not defined by W.H.O. (World Health Organization) as the complete absence of disease or infirmity, but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. The same organization defines “wellness” as the best state of health for individuals and groups or a positive approach to living, the quality and happy state of life, especially as an actively sought goal.
With an understanding of these definitions, it is important to be able to differentiate between them and learn just how they do correlate to each other. A great way to think about health is to see it as the bare-bone biology of your body. It answers questions like what diseases are you genetically predisposed to? What health risks run in your family? What externally impactful physical, mental, or emotional injury have you suffered? Health is something that can be analytically measure on a page, reports, and various health tests.
Wellness is based on our everyday decisions when it comes to the food, drink, chosen social circle, physical activity level, and our chosen self-care practices. To summarize: health is the current state of physical, mental, and social emotion (health can be measured on paper) while wellness is very much what our drive and motivators are in our decision-making process; otherwise our active conscious choices.
Now even though we should not use these two words interchangeably, they are related and do actively support each other. One example is actively choosing to eat whole foods or choose to exercise. This is an active choice in wellness that helps improve your physical health and possibly increase the longevity of your life. When we look at the other side of the spectrum of health and wellness, if we actively choose to drink or smoke in excess, we threaten our overall health, specifically the lungs and liver.
Beyond the physical benefits, our wellness and health can be greatly affected by our social, cultural, and environmental surroundings as well, although it may not be as apparent as direct physical impacts and choices. A good example is a piece of advice that I once received, which was “be careful of the company you keep.” Who you surround yourself with plays an important role in your mental and emotional health. If you are constantly surrounded by negative people, you will feel the effects of their negative behaviors, and habits spill into your life as well. The opposite effect could happen with those of a more lighthearted and enjoyable nature who may motivate you to go on to bigger and better things. Who we surround ourselves with plays a major role in our health and wellness because whether directly or indirectly we are influenced by them.
Especially during this current period of COVID and actively participating with social movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and other important movements, it is important now more than ever to make sure to protect your physical health and really take note on your active choices of the company you keep to progress not only your own wellness and health, but helping those in other communities whose health and wellness constantly suffer due to active oppression and suppression of others.
What positive and negative health and wellness patterns and behaviors do you think you have? Do you feel the need or want to change them?