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What is the focus of Worksite Wellness today? – A series – What is health? (Does it matter?)

The field and practice of workplace wellness today essentially revolves around three terms: health, wellness, and wellness. Other terms that are also used are: thriving, thriving, health promotion, optimal living and quality of life. But the big three are health, wellness and wellness.

Since these terms are used interchangeably or synonymously, I’ve wondered how different or the same are these terms? When I put this question in my mind, I thought it would be easy enough to just look up their definitions and I would have my answer.

But boy, was I wrong. Definitions only got me this far and not very far. It seems that a clearer picture requires an understanding of the concept and context of the term, as well as its definition.

What is health?

The most commonly cited definition of health is probably the World Health Organization (WHO) definition from 1948. “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The 1994 Mosby, 4th Edition, Medical, Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary defines health as, “A state of physical, mental and social well-being and the absence of disease or other abnormal condition. It is not a static state.”

Rice University defines health as “a multidimensional concept commonly measured and measured in terms of: l) absence of physical pain, physical disability, or any condition likely to cause death, 2) emotional well-being, and 3) satisfactory social functioning.”

Wikipedia views health as “the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans, it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and manage themselves when faced with physical, mental or social challenges.”

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luisi, in their 2014 book, The Systems View of Life, define health as “a state of well-being resulting from a dynamic equilibrium that includes the physical and psychological aspects of the organism, as well as its interactions with its natural and social surroundings.”

The 2013 edition 22 of Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines health as “a state in which all functions of the body and mind are normally active.”

In 2006 Merriam – Webster’s Medical Dictionary, health is “(1) the state of an organism or any of its parts in which it performs its vital functions normally or properly; the state of being healthy of body or mind; being free from physical disease and pain. (2) the state of an organism with regard to the performance of its vital functions, especially as judged subjectively (How is your health today?).”

Stedman’s 7th Edition Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing, 2012, defined health as “(1) the state of an organism when it functions optimally without evidence of disease or abnormality; (2) a state characterized by anatomical, physiological and psychological integrity; ability to fulfill personally valued family, work, and community roles; ability to cope with physical, biological, psychological, and social stress; a sense of well-being; freedom from the risk of illness and premature death.

Unlike health status, which is a fixed state at a particular point in time, health is a much larger concept. “Health is largely a subjective experience whose quality can be intuitively known, but never exhaustively defined or quantified.” (Capra and Luisi, 2014) Health is therefore relative, subjective and multidimensional. How we define life will determine how we define health. Because life depends on the natural and social environment, so does our health.

When examining and considering definitions from a conceptual perspective, it is important to remember that definitions are only part of the perspective. For conceptual clarity, context and relevance should also be considered as equally important as areas of focus.

Understanding health in relation to well-being in the workplace is not as simple as defining the term.


What is the focus of your workplace wellness program? I invite you to let me help you create your own effective, successful and sustainable program. I specialize in mentoring workplace program coordinators and creating Done With You employee health and wellness programs in the workplace. 

Brought to you by Bill McPeck, Your Worksite Wellness Mentor. Committed to helping employers and workplace program coordinators create successful, sustainable employee health and wellness programs, especially in employer environments of all sizes.

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