How is Wellness Different?

"Wellness" written at the front of a road with a view in the background

When you go to the doctor today, there are 2 goals today.

  1. “Prevention” of developing disease. You are feeling fine, but due to your age, you doctor recommends preventative care. This typically involves screening exams and attempts for early detection of development of disease.
  2. Diagnosis of episodic problems. You have an ache, pain, or complaint and your doctor looks into it. This is also why you might visit an ER or Urgent Care Clinic.

Essentially, there are 2 reasons to seek and consume health care: early detection and diagnosis of episodic problem. There are many holes in this process.

What about mental health? Well, that falls within early detection. A good primary care provider will screen you for mental health problems and if there are concerns, he or she might address it with you or refer you to a psychologist/psychiatrist. The trouble is that most people don’t want to see a mental health professional. Some primary doctors understand this, but not all are comfortable discussing it. Less than 30% of people with clinical depression will ever see a primary care provider.

What about nutrition? Well, unless you have a heart attack or you develop early diabetes, you won’t learn much about nutrition from your doctor. Nutrition is largely ignored by medical practice today. Most people also won’t necessarily seek out a dietitian or nutritionist on their own. There is clearly a role at hospitals, nursing home and schools, but as 1:1 consultations, a lot of people struggle with this.

What about physical activity? We do a lot better here. A lot of folks do go to a gym, are part of a course and are engaged in their physical activity. From cycling programs and classes to CrossFit to martial arts, we are active. It is rarely, however, a part of your health and wellness plan. Where do you need to add activities? Do you need to add muscle? Do you need to do a little more cardio? Are you getting enough daily steps?

What about toxin avoidance? When’s the last time anyone assessed your toxic exposures? We are all being exposed to toxins and there is no doubt that many diseases are associated with toxins. So, why don’t we consider them in our health plans?

What about spiritual health? Your doctor is so uncomfortable with spiritual health that the likelihood that this has ever been addressed is low. We are spiritual beings. 80% of us believe in one God, but we are pretty uncomfortable talking about it. Many people strongly feel that their faith, relationship with God and spiritual well-being plays a role in their health, wellness and their fate. I can’t tell you how many times, I have made a diagnosis about a health problem and patients have said to me, “Well, I must have deserved this.” This is a spiritual problem. If you have ever asked, why are we here, what’s my purpose and what is the meaning of my life, you have asked a spiritual question. A physician is not a religious leader, but your spiritual health and plan play a role in your perception of your physical and emotional health. It is, after all, at the center of your very being.

At this point, it’s obvious that our current healthcare model is missing the mark. Part of the problem, in my mind, is that medical diagnosis is often too binary. It’s black and white. You meet the criteria for this disease, so you HAVE this disease. You don’t meet the criteria for this disease, so you DON’T have this disease. In reality, it’s much less binary. Our bodies are in constant ebb and flow of health, based on our daily decisions. Our lifestyle plays a major role in our general health and wellness. 80-90% of chronic disease is preventable, which means that we are 80-90% responsible for health and wellness problems.

What we need is to think about health and wellness as a spectrum. We are constantly moving along the spectrum of nutrition, physical activity, toxic exposures, emotional wellness and spiritual health. When go too far on that spectrum, we reach the criteria for disease, but the disease started long before we met criteria for that disease. There are natural or holistic ways of treating disease.

Lifestyle Medicine, for example, is fantastic, in that it seeks to apply lifestyle as medicine for disease. This means that you receive a diagnosis and then, instead of jumping on the medication train, you tweak your lifestyle first, as a way to reverse the disease. There are other models out there as well. These are all great. If you receive a diagnosis, you should consider lifestyle as medicine first and seek out a lifestyle medicine provider.

I do offer lifestyle as medicine for some folks in consultation and the research from the lifestyle medicine providers is invaluable to advancing the field. BUT, wellness is NOT lifestyle medicine. My primary area of interest is wellness. How does all of the above fit into wellness?

Wellness is achieving your maximal potential. Maximal potential varies by individual, but always includes your goals at the center of it, rather than health which often puts the physician’s goals at the center. How do you feel? How do you look? Are you happy? Are you connected? What is the meaning of your life? What’s your life’s purpose?

We ask these questions all the time and they are very much at the center of our own perceived health. Wellness is also a spectrum and a journey, meaning that we never really achieve full wellness, but rather are always working towards our best. Early detection of disease, as is stated above, is not really prevention. It is reaction to the first signs of trouble. At this point, we may be able to apply lifestyle as medicine to reverse the disease. It is NOT, however, wellness. True wellness is working towards your goal and optimizing your lifestyle to get there. When you are doing that, your health becomes so good that your probability of disease development is reduced.

  • Wellness always includes a plan. This is very different than diagnosis and early detection.
  • Wellness encourages people to stay on track, rather than waiting for a problem and then responding.
  • Wellness puts the patient first, working towards their goals, rather than the provider.
  • Wellness utilizes evidence-based research from lifestyle medicine to understand lifestyles that are conducive to seeking your goals.
  • Wellness does not put disease avoidance as goal, but rather maximal performance as goal, which leads to a lifestyle that is not conducive to development of disease.
  • Wellness is a way of living that is organized and guided, but flexible and fun.
  • Wellness is a culture.

Wellness is NOT a day at the spa, getting your nails done, or weight-loss alone. Wellness is a way of living, which is based on science AND puts meaning and value back into your life. Avoidance of disease is inevitable, when you are living a life that puts YOU first. When you are doing everything you can to achieve your goals, you will thrive.

Wellness is the FUTURE of healthcare. It is so inherently different than early detection, application treatment and diagnosis of a problem. It’s a way of planning, living, and thriving, which is based on your goals and science. That science, of lifestyle medicine, has evolved substantially in recent years. That’s why the time for a change is now.

Just like you need a lawyer or an accountant to help with your legal questions and accounting questions, you will need a physician who understands the human body, lifestyle medicine, and traditional medicine to help develop a wellness plan for your employees, your family, and yourself. A partnership is key to success. Doctor of Living may just be the partner you want. People and companies that understand the wellness model I have outlined above will not only stomp out disease, they will seek out success AND they will achieve their goals.

If you are ready to make a change, learn more about our Well90 Program: 90 Days to Wellness

3 Comments

  1. […] This podcast is a vision of how we can start living a life of wellness. I have also written a blog this week on the topic, check it out. […]

  2. Dan on November 19, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Wellness is a culture. Love this comment and so true!

    If you personal culture doesn’t allow time for wellness, take time to reflect whats important!

    • Jeremy Stueven, MD on November 20, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Love this Dan! Great insight. Do you mind if I use it? Be well my friend.

Leave a Comment