Is ‘wellness’ a term or a state of mind dreamt up by the annoying smashed avocado eating, flat white coffee drinking millennials.
It’s a fashionable term for an elusive state that is constantly strived for, but is it ever achieved?
Is it just a way of abdicating the responsibility for the state of our health? There was a time when being well was seen simply as not being sick, but ‘wellness’ has now become an aspiration.
Wellness appears to be a state that is constantly indefinable. Just as you think you’ve achieved it, the goal posts are moved, and often by others.
Our wellness is rated against standards and commented on by others — “you’re looking well”.
It’s a business which has grown from the box ticking exercises of employers to an industry which encompasses everything from boutique fitness gyms to day spas, and is now valued at a monstrous $4.2 trillion, having grown 12.8% in the last two years.
The industry now represents 5.3% of global economic output. But is the wellness industry taking advantage of our fears and insecurities in the name of profits?
Is it exploiting our willingness to outsource our health to Instagram gurus and fancy Facebook marketers who have created a new culture of consumable wellness in which mental and physical serenity is only a juice cleanse away?
Crazes and fads
We now barely get to grips with the latest fad before a next craze is released, guaranteed to always offer more attention-grabbing trends and quick fixes.
Our society is becoming ever more enthusiastic about gimmicks, because they offer promises of an easier existence and instant improvement or relief.
These ‘great ideas’ are from enthusiasts and gurus, who are good-hearted and well-meaning but who somehow miss the pragmatic realism that knowledge, hard work and discipline is the only secret to achieving any goal. But that doesn’t stop people trying to hunt for an easy option.
But what causes wellness? What is it that makes us well? Is it simply avoiding or treating the causes of illness? Are we well when we are not ill?
In reality there is a spectrum of wellness, from pathogenesis (disease) to salutogenesis.
Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. This term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease.
Put simply, pathothogenisis is based on the study of the origin, causes and treatment of diseases, whereas salutogenisis is focused on the causes and promotion of health.
Maybe these wellness trends are filling the gap left by our institutional state healthcare. The health system in Ireland, like most, is based on a reactive model ; it is a ‘sick care’ structure.
Our system waits for us to become sick before providing appropriate reactive treatment and action. This strategy is not intended to help stop the onset of disease and promote health, but instead to diagnose and treat illness once it has developed.
Our healthcare system is designed around an acute care concept, in which the focus is to fix rather than prevent. Hippocrates — the father of our modern medicine lived about 2,400 years ago and even then he recognised that preventing is better than treating.
He held that the human body functioned as one unified organism, and must be treated, in health and disease, as one coherent, integrated whole.
So wellness is not a new idea.
According to Hippocrates disease resulted from disharmony and imbalance and good health could only be restored and maintained by correcting this disparity and restoring harmony.
But as the wellness industry appears to be thriving, it most always be remembered that wellness is not medicine. ‘Wellness’ may fill the gaps left by our healthcare system but we should never let it exploit them.
Local physio and Newbridge AC member Barry Kehoe offers advice to runners of all levels. See www.kehoephysio.com