My Wellness Paradigm


The term wellness is used commonly and can take on various meanings. In fact, it is difficult to find a universally accepted definition of wellness. From my perspective as a physician, wellness refers to your personal state of well-being, where all components of wellness are optimized. Many illustrations exist to encompass the dimensions of wellness, however, it is difficult to use discrete categories to define a concept that blends into one. My wellness paradigm was designed to illustrate important aspects of wellness, that can be identified and modified, to improve your sense of well-being.

Description of components:

The nucleus of the paradigm is your personal sense of wellness. This is what we strive to achieve. Surrounding it there are four main wellness entities: Nutritional Wellness, Physical Wellness, Emotional Wellness, and Social Wellness.

A) Nutritional Wellness:

The old adage “we are what we eat” has some validity. Food can provide us with energy, prevent certain illnesses (i.e. calcium in dairy products – osteoporsosis, vitamin C in citrus) and play a role in cancer prevention (i.e. high fibre diet – colon cancer).

Despite diet crazes, Canada’s Food Guide remains the most valuable resource in promoting optimal nutrition. The guide not only categorizes food types and servings, but also offers recommendations on portion sizes and age/gender. Another valuable resource is the Healthy Eating Pyramid from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. This pyramid approach emphasizes grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and nuts on the bottom. Moving up the pyramid, there is seafood, poultry and dairy. At the top is red meat and carbohydrates with a high glycemic index.

Useful resources:

Canada’s Food Guide

Healthy Eating Plate & Pyramid – Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

B) Physical Wellness:

It is well known that we should exercise regularly. Physical activity will aid in weight control, cancer prevention, diabetes prevention and cardiovascular health. Some key features include: finding types of exercise you enjoy; creating a way to incorporate it into your life; and be motivated to keep it as part of your lifestyle.

Useful resources:

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology – Physical Activity Guidelines

Public Health Agency of Canada – Tips to Get Active

C) Emotional Wellness:

We often underestimate the power of emotional wellness until we experience significant mood changes that are either explained or unexplained. Grief due to a loss will invariably create an expected alteration in your emotional balance. Depression and anxiety can be unexpected mood alterations that have no obvious basis. In either case, if our mood fluctuates away from happiness, calmness, etc., this can create a negative shift in your sense of wellness. How we feel about ourselves has a significant influence on our emotional well-being. A spiritual life can offset some of the hardships in life and help achieve a sense of emotional wellness.

Useful resources:

Health Canada in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada – It’s Your Health:

1. Anxiety

2. Depression

3. Stress

D) Social Wellness:

Our social influences fluctuate depending on many factors including our age, where we live, and place of work/school. Our family of origin plays an integral role in our social wellness, and as we age, this shifts more to our partner. In turn, having children, a move, and work can influence our social circle throughout time. Social media and the internet have also powered our social world making it possible to form relationships at a distance. Arguments, break-ups, and moves can alter the balance of social wellness.

Useful tips:

Work on the relationships you do have. Say “I love you”, show signs of affection and appreciation.

Local sources such as a gym, community groups, volunteering.

Online forums such as Facebook, blogs, relationship websites.

Points of overlap on the wellness paradigm explained:

Our nutritional and physical wellness are closely tied to our occupation and finances. Having money is an important part of eating a healthy, well balanced diet low in preservatives. The type of job can also impact the time of day you can eat or focus on physical activity. For instance, shift work may create some difficulties and require more planning. Some occupations allow for an increase in physical activity such as a fitness instructor, an athlete, etc. Alternatively, some occupations involve long hours of inactivity such as office work.

Our nutritional and emotional wellness are tied to energy and sleep. A well balanced diet can improve cognitive function and mood, and our mood can affect our energy level, sleep function and eating patterns. Depressed mood for example can create sleep disturbances, either too much or too little, and can also lead to over or under eating.

Our emotional and social wellness are closely tied to how we think and express ourselves. There is truth to the adage that “laughter is the best medicine”. We often surround ourselves with like-minded people who make us feel good. Relationship conflicts can reduce the amount of happiness in our life and create an imbalance in either one of these spheres.

Our social and physical wellness are closely tied to the hobbies we pursue and the presence or absence of pets in our life. Hobbies, for example golf or a team sport, can create a common ground with a partner or friends, and can influence our physical wellness. Having pets can encourage the owner to become physically active and may influence interaction with other pet owners, such as dog parks or agility classes.

Everything is surrounded by our environment. This includes our physical and internal environment. Where you live impacts all aspects of your wellness. In turn, your genetic make-up influences your wellness. For instance, if you live in a small town with a lot of sunshine, depending on your internal make-up, this may be more beneficial to your wellness than living in a large city with a lot of pollution and more precipitation.

All of the factors come together to create your personal wellness. This will fluctuate over time given the number of influences, whether it is within the same day, or over the course of a year. Knowing what contributes to your personal wellness, as it is individualized, will help you remain well and live your best life.