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Published: June 8, 2024

How to Define Health and Wellness

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Health and wellness are often used synonymously, but each has a unique definition that has evolved throughout history.

In ancient times, health, or the absence of disease, was closely tied to religion, with the belief that gods, demons, and supernatural powers must be appeased in order to achieve it. Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, is known for breaking from this belief system, instead promoting the idea that health requires balance within the body. His overarching concept of health is the foundation of functional medicine, which requires looking at health from a holistic perspective.

The modern definition of health set by the World Health Organization is the “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” With our advanced understanding of how health can be achieved, it's important to understand why wellness must also be achieved in tandem.

Health vs. Wellness

Health refers to a state of being, from physical health to social and mental health. While whole-person or holistic health is the goal, health is often achieved by breaking down the areas that need attention and taking steps to address each area, from heart health to gut health. The steps that one would take to improve either of those areas of health might start with many of the same things, such as aiming to lose weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol by limiting processed foods, eating more nutrient-dense foods, prioritizing sleep, managing stress, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and much more.

Essentially, health is the goal, while wellness, on the other hand, is the dynamic process of living a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness encompasses the many areas of our lives that impact our health and well-being, not just our nutrition and physical activity! At IIN, we call these areas primary food –making the food on our plate secondary – and how well we nourish ourselves with these “foods” will determine our overall wellness.

IIN’s Circle of Life exercise is one of the best ways to figure out how much attention you’re paying to:

  • Career
  • Creativity
  • Education
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Environment
  • Physical activity
  • Relationships
  • Social life
  • Spirituality

Doing this exercise will illuminate which areas need strengthening, and you might find there are crossovers, such as finances with career; home cooking with home environment; or relationships with social life and joy. Our well-being is interconnected, and optimal wellness will depend on the balance of all areas together. We find balance by strengthening each area on its own in addition to all the areas as a whole.

So, is health or wellness more important than the other? No. In fact, that’s why the term health and wellness exists – to bring the two together to demonstrate that to truly be healthy and fulfilled, you can’t have one without the other.

The Eight Dimensions of Health and Wellness

Health and wellness encompass so much more than the foods you eat or the time you spend at the gym – wellness is a multidimensional concept that involves all facets of your life. The eight dimensions of health wellness include physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environmental, and occupational factors. By incorporating these aspects of wellness into your daily routine, you can enhance your overall health and create a more balanced and vibrant life.

1. Physical Health

Taking care of your physical health will not only benefit your body but also your mind! By focusing on eating a diet full of nutritious and colorful foods and getting enough physical activity each week, you’ll be on your way to peak physical health.

2. Mental Health

To live a healthier and happier life, create habits that promote positive mental health. In addition to eating well and moving your body mindfully, here are some ways to improve your mental health:

  • Practice regular self-care  This doesn’t have to be expensive or Instagram-worthy. Self-care can look like sleeping in an extra hour on a weekday, staying hydrated, saying no to plans, or simply taking a long shower. Anything that makes you feel renewed and like yourself can be considered self-care and will go a long way in helping you show up for yourself and others.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – If you're struggling with your mental health, seek professional help from a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, depending on your needs. Mental health professionals are equipped to discuss your concerns confidentially and without bias, which can be beneficial if you don’t want to share personal things with close family or friends.  

3. Emotional Health

While mental health involves how we process and understand information we encounter, emotional health focuses on how we feel about what we’re dealing with. Emotional health includes things like:

  • Acknowledging and accepting your emotions
  • Processing and managing those feelings
  • Expressing your emotions in a healthy and appropriate manner

Emotional health blends emotional intelligence with emotional regulation. It’s one thing to recognize you’re acting a certain way, it’s another to understand why.

4. Social Wellness

Social wellness refers to the relationships we have and how we interact with others in our social circles and society as a whole. It involves building healthy, nurturing, and supportive relationships and fostering genuine connections with your family, friends, peers, coworkers, romantic partners, neighbors – anyone whom you interact with.

5. Intellectual Wellness

Intellectual wellness can be developed through personal and professional development, cultural appreciation, and community involvement. It involves mental exercises and engaging in brain-stimulating activities. This can look like taking online classes, listening to lectures and podcasts, problem-solving, puzzles, and any creative outlet that challenges your mind. 

6. Spiritual Wellness

Spiritual health is often overlooked because it feels as though it’s all or nothing, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Spirituality can look like organized religion or anything that helps you feel a connection to the greater universe, such as being in nature, meditation, practicing gratitude, or even your yoga practice.

7. Environmental Wellness

How is your environment promoting or hurting your health? Does your home lack natural light? Are you unable to access green spaces in your community? Are you living with someone who doesn’t respect or appreciate you? Your environment encompasses all these things and more and can affect your well-being.

8. Occupational Health

Occupational wellness is how you feel about your job or career. Many people tend to stick with their jobs even though they’re unfulfilling, and that can affect their well-being! The stress and anxiety of being in a job you hate can cause a multitude of physical and emotional symptoms, not to mention make you a not-so-fun person to be around. Spot the signs you’re in the wrong career, and aim to make a change.

Improving Your Health and Well-Being

Making changes to our habits and routines won’t happen overnight, and it’s putting undue stress on ourselves to think otherwise. Improving our health and well-being takes time and focus – concentrating on what you haven’t achieved will only take away from what changes you have made. Try picking one aspect of your health and well-being to focus on at a time; once you feel you’ve got a handle on that, add in a segment you’d like to improve.

Consume Nutritious, Whole Foods

Eating a balanced diet with minimally processed foods will set your body up for success as well as prevent chronic diseases in the long term, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These foods also foster a flourishing gut microbiome, which is the key to your immunity and mental health. The gut-brain connection plays a major role in your mental and emotional well-being as over 90% of serotonin – the “feel good” hormone – is made in the gut. Bottom line? The food you eat impacts every major system in your body – so fuel them well!

Foods that benefit your physical well-being include:

  • Fermented foods rich in pre- and probiotics
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids and mono- and polyunsaturated fats
  • Protein, whether animal- or plant-based, with limited red meat consumption
  • Whole grains and complex carbohydrates 

Exercise Regularly

Movement is important for physical health, from improving balance and building lean muscle to improving cardiovascular function and boosting mood and energy! If you’re not used to exercising on a regular basis, start small: Take a walk around the block, park farther from the grocery store, or commit to standing more during the workday. Every little bit counts, so do what works best for you!

Activities that benefit your physical well-being include:

  • Low-impact exercises, such as walking, biking, yoga, tai chi, and swimming
  • High-impact exercises in moderation, such as running, high-intensity interval training, boxing, and strength training
  • Movement that’s baked into your routine, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening, chores around the house, walking or biking instead of driving, and stretching 

Practice Mindfulness

Everything in today’s world is competing for our attention, and it can easily become overwhelming to try to quiet the noise. Mindfulness means being aware of and attentive to what’s going on inside and outside of your body. It means not being on “autopilot,” going through the motions of life without a clear connection to what you’re feeling or doing. Practicing mindfulness can mean meditating, but it doesn’t have to be. Other ways to practice mindfulness include:

  • Seeking out nature
  • Noticing the sights, smells, and sounds around you
  • Listening intently when others are speaking
  • Leveraging moments of waiting
  • Deciding to be more mindful

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is essential! Not getting enough quality and quantity of sleep can throw your blood sugar and appetite control out of whack, cause hormonal imbalances, affect your mood, and even impair decision-making skills. For less stress and more calm, work on your sleep routine, such as setting a bedtime and removing your phone from the bedroom.

Learn Something New

Growing as an individual; as a member of your community; as a partner, family member, or friend; or as a leader involves consistently learning new things. “Education – both formal and informal - is essential to the development of considerate, compassionate, and cooperative societies, the success of organizations, and the personal pursuit of happiness.” Learning new skills, picking up new hobbies, even meeting new people all contribute to your bank of knowledge.

Engage with Your Community

Having support from your social connections, from friends and family to coworkers, will promote a healthier mental state. Knowing you can turn to someone when you’re stressed or having a difficult day fosters feelings of belonging and community, both of which are attributes of some of the healthiest people in the world.

Health Coaching, Health, and Wellness

The many areas of health and wellness permeate into every aspect of your life, from your morning routines and how you manage your work schedule to your relationships with your friends and family and what you put on your plate. The IIN curriculum highlights the importance of each area of wellness, educating students on the nutrition, mindset, and community aspects of health that can help them live a more holistic and balanced life.

By focusing on nourishing each of these dimensions of health and wellness, you can reach an optimal level of whole-body health and show up in your life as the best version of yourself.

If you’re ready to take the next step, explore what it would be like to turn your passion for health and wellness into a lucrative career! IIN’s Health Coach Training Program will teach you how to approach health from a holistic perspective and find the diet and lifestyle that works for you – what we call bio-individuality. This core concept helps our students and graduates transform their own lives and the lives of others through their work as Health Coaches! Check out our free Curriculum Guide for more information.


The Original Health Coaching Program

Learn more about IIN’s rigorous curriculum that integrates 90+ of the world’s leading experts in health and wellness, blending the scientific and the spiritual to create an immersive, holistic health education.

The Health Coach Training Program Guide

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