The History of Wellness: A Brief Insight

We tend to think of the current wellness trends as something new but they have their roots in ancient history.

Today’s approaches to our overall wellbeing not only draw on regular exercise but how we eat and how we build a spiritual connection to the world around us.

The concept of mind, body and spirit together in perfect harmony has led more people around the world to take control of their health. Here we look at how our understanding of wellness has evolved over the centuries, finally becoming the movement we see today.

What the Ancients Thought About Wellness

One of the earliest mentions of how mind, body and spirit are important can be found in the Ayurveda, a series of texts that were written in India between 3,000 and 1,500 BC. This included the basic tenets of yoga and how balance is essential for health and wellbeing.

About the same time, Traditional Chinese Medicine was being developed with influences from Buddhism. Taking a holistic approach to health and wellbeing led to the creation of practices such as acupuncture that we still use to this day to treat various illnesses.

The Greeks and Romans also developed their health practices, with both focusing on disease and illness prevention rather than cure. The Romans, in particular, were responsible for improving sanitation and using natural heat sources to stay healthy, as well as focusing on diet and exercise.

Key Moments in Wellness Evolution

The earliest mention of the term wellness can be found in 1654 in a diary entry by Sir Archibald Johnston. In the 1790s, we were first introduced to homeopathy which uses natural elements to encourage wellbeing so the body can heal itself.

The 19th century was one of the most productive times for new health and wellness approaches, particularly in countries like the USA and across Europe. It was during this century that we began to see new philosophies and practices, including chiropractor and naturopathy.

In the 1860s we see the Kneipp Cure which combined warm water treatments, herbs, good eating and exercise to make patients well. This was also the time of movements such as Christian Science and New Thought.

By the turn of the century, John Harvey Kellogg was singing the benefits of a healthy diet and fresh air for wellness. It was about this time, however, that many homeopathic and other alternative approaches were removed from the mainstream medical teachings of the time.

Wellness in the 20th Century

The global wellness movement as we know it today began to develop around the 1950s. An informal network of individuals including Dr John Travis and Dr Bill Hettler began to build new wellness models as well as forming the National Wellness Institute in the US.

From about 1980, the wellness movement began to gather speed, moving from the borders of current medical thinking to become more mainstream. The academic publication the Berkley Wellness Letter was created to highlight the evidence and research that was being produced concerning wellness approaches.

In 1991, we saw the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and government-sponsored health initiatives began to be created across the country. Businesses also began to see how beneficial creating a wellness program for employees could be.

Embracing Wellness in the 21st Century

In the last twenty years, we’ve seen a growth in private gyms and spas that have included many once alternative approaches to wellbeing. Individuals themselves are more literate in how they view their health. There’s been a steady growth in the number of people who have changed to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

More than half of employers now use some kind of wellness strategy. With chronic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, the cost of medical healthcare has risen dramatically. Most governments and individuals now understand that prevention is just as important as finding a cure.

More research is being funded for complementary approaches than ever before in human history and it’s producing some surprising results. We now have a World Happiness Report that is produced annually and shows which countries have the highest levels of wellness.

The wellness industry today is worth trillions of dollars and even the surgeon general in the US has announced initiatives to help rid the world of avoidable chronic diseases through wellness practices. There’s even a Global Wellness Day.

One thing is for certain as we head further into the 21st century – the wellness industry is here to stay. While there are still big challenges with obesity and other chronic conditions, it’s enabling us to lead healthier lives and reduce our risk for some of the world’s most prevalent diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.