What is Wellness

By Patricia Fuller, PhD | Director of Wellness Engineering

The word wellness appears seemingly everywhere: at day spas, on product labels, in employee benefit programs. Regardless of where you happen upon it, at its most basic level, wellness implies possession of the vitality and capacity needed to fully engage in one’s physical, mental and emotional life. A wellness program is any intervention that facilitates this goal, via health maintenance, disease prevention and lifestyle improvement.

Wellness engineering, moreover, is a customized program that responds to the unique needs and available resources of an individual or group of individuals. Universally, I find that individuals, at work or at home, are walking around “wired and tired.” Consequently, I am most likely to begin wellness engineering with a stress management program.

The “wired” component results from the relentless assault of stressors that is American daily life. Typical stressors include running late, skipping breakfast and sitting most of the time—whether in a car or in front of a computer or television screen. Each bout of inactivity is broken up with jolts of energy drinks and sugary snacks that temporarily keep the body running. When the work/school day is over, the family staggers home and forages for yet another commercially prepared meal, eaten in front of yet another screen. Then off to bed, where sleep remains evasive. When sleep does finally arrive, it is often too little, too late and of poor quality. The alarm goes off and the cycle repeats the next day, resulting again in the “tired” component.

This “wired and tired” lifestyle promotes the secretion of cortisol, a long-acting stress hormone. It decreases leptin, a hormone that signals satiety and increases ghrelin, a stomach peptide that stimulates hunger. Whether you are skimping on sleep, chugging too much coffee or eating too much sugar, the body responds by putting on weight. It is a vicious cycle. We sleep poorly, so we drink more caffeinated beverages and eat more sugar to keep us going. Then we cannot fall or stay asleep because we are too amped-up on sugar or caffeine. At some point, we have to get off the merry-go-round.

How do we do that? Think of the letter “R.”

1) Rest. Shoot for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. With less you will rest, but the body does not have a chance to repair.

2) Refuel. Eat regularly. Start with breakfast within an hour of waking up, and discernible breaks for lunch and dinner. Children who eat breakfast perform better in school. Teenagers who eat with their families are less prone to depression. Adults who eat breakfast are leaner than their breakfast-skipping counterparts.

3) Reconnect. Make a point of renewing your relationships with family and friends.

4) Recharge. Indulge in the hobbies you enjoy. Big ideas pop up in the middle of a concert, a good book or a walk through a park, not when you are poring over columns of numbers.

5) Reach. Try something that might be a stretch for you. Learn a new language, take up painting, or try yoga or kick-boxing.

6) Remember. Stop taking it all so seriously. Learn to look at life with a little levity. People who experience more positive emotions live longer.

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