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New Years Resolution

What Wellness Means

Chuck Gillespie

CWP, CEO, National Wellness Institute

For the last three decades, wellness is a term that gets equated to physical health. It has been measured and managed based on physical activity, eating right, or whether we have reduced or eliminated unhealthy lifestyles. But the 2020 pandemic has brought to the forefront the need to get back to the root definition of wellness. 

Dr. Halbert Dunn, Chief of the National Office of Vital Statistics from 1935 to 1960, first coined the phrase “wellness” in the 1950s. Dunn’s definition of high-level wellness can be summarized to mean functioning optimally within the environment, and is broken down into four quadrants according to a person’s health status and environment.

Mapping wellness

A person has poor health if they are both chronically ill and must function within an unfavorable environment, and if they are chronically ill but function within a favorable environment they have protected poor health. A person who is without a disease but must function within an unfavorable environment has emergent high-level wellness, and a person without a disease who functions within a very favorable environment has high-level wellness.

Simply put, the need to establish environments that provide the opportunity to readily choose the healthier choice is essential before individuals with poor health can even make change. Just because you know you have an issue does not mean you have the access to support, treatment, or even to be trained properly to make the change.

Choosing health

But how do we define the healthier choice?  We need to make sure we have medical care when needed. We need a good job to support our lifestyles. We need a support network available to help us find wellness resources. And we need to understand that factors such as social isolation, emotional well-being, life-long-learning, and spiritual enlightenment beyond faith and religion are also critical to functioning optimally within the environment. 

No longer can health and wellness be considered the same thing. We have a health crisis and we have a wellness crisis. If society wants to provide the opportunities for all people to thrive, society must look beyond physical health and drive our wellness competencies to a new level. This is not going to be easy, but together we can start the process. 

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