Wellness: Recent Phenomenon or Trusted Tradition?

By Sheryl McWilliams, MPH, RN, Parkview Adventist Medical Center, Brunswick, Maine

In the past few years the word "wellness" has been used to describe everything from treadmills to cafeterias. It has been touted as one of the answers to living longer, lowering healthcare costs, increasing work productivity and more. Do a Google™ search of the word and you'll find sites devoted to longevity, mental illness, the workplace, health education, massage, beauty tips and even pet food. Wellness, it seems has as many definitions as there are services and products trying to define it. New meanings pop up every day. So what does wellness really mean and who were the early pioneers of this new wellness phenomenon, and is it really new after all?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines wellness as, "the condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise, and habits." Some of the early pioneers of wellness were members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who started a network of now over 200 healthcare organizations around the world. Adventist hospitals and physicians have been teaching a consistent and comprehensive wellness philosophy for more than a century, long before it was adopted by pop culture. Medical care in Adventist hospitals and by most Adventist physicians has been guided by eight simple principles of healthy living, all of which are widely known; yet often ignored. For Adventist healthcare practitioners, wellness is enhanced through the use of adequate: nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest and trust. Let's consider each of these.

A healthy diet is an essential tool in the prevention and treatment of disease. Adventists generally promote a diet rich in unprocessed plant foods that are high in fiber.

Exercise not only increases strength, but it can boost the immune system, ward off disease and disability and help improve mental health. Useful labor is one of the best exercises.

The NIH funded Adventist Health Study showed that drinking at least five glasses of water each day can help reduce ones risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by as much as 50%. Not only does it help to reduce the risk of these killers; it helps to rid our bodies of toxins and other undesirables.

Plants and animals benefit from the sun. It provides the best source of vitamin D, and is suggested to improve metabolism and hormonal balance. In addition, it helps to prevent depression and seasonal affective disorder also known as SAD. It is not recommended that one stay in the sun so long that they get burned.

Remember the old adage; too much of a good thing is bad? Well taking everything in moderation is considered one of the keys to true wellness and healthy living.

A breath of pure, fresh air is a very important element for optimal health.

The human body needs adequate rest to function properly and restore itself. Without adequate amounts of quality rest, our bodies begin to break down. And rest does not only mean sleep; it also means time away from the worries and cares of day to day life. For Adventists this generally refers to the Sabbath.

Lastly, our health is also enhanced through putting trust in others and ourselves. For Adventists, this means a trust in God.

For Adventists, letting these principles guide their existence has produced some extraordinary results. These people seem to be out living their counterparts as well as living healthier in their later years. Some Adventists refer to their elderly as super seniors because many of them continue exercising, driving and performing other everyday tasks well into their 90's. The 2005 November issue of National Geographic Magazine recognized the Adventists of Loma Linda, California as one of the healthiest and longest living populations in the world. The magazine suggested that their lifestyle was the reason behind their unprecedented longevity and health.

Wellness is not only a lesson for the individual. A good example is the growth of wellness programs within businesses of all sizes. Employers have a large stake in the health of their employees. Many Adventist organizations long ago created free health education programs for their employees. They do this not only to help the employee, but also to help lower the organization's health costs. The healthier a population is, the more savings are achieved. In fact, Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick actually lowered their employee cost per month for healthcare by almost 15% in one year, this is believed to be due to increased employee wellness programs.

As society continues to understand the value of living healthier lifestyles, wellness programs, services, products and organizations will continue to rise in popularity. Although it has taken many decades for science, the media and even the government to acknowledge the importance of wellness in creating a healthier population, people like the Adventists and others have been living it for years.

Sheryl S. McWilliamsSheryl S. McWilliams, MPH, RN, is an Assistant Vice President at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick. Incorporate wellness into your life today using time tested and science proven methods.




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