When I subtitled my blog, “musings on the science of holistic wellness,” I did so because I believe that any strategy to improve human wellbeing has to look at things holistically. By this I mean nothing can be taken in isolation. Humans are complex and our wellbeing is affected by things that happen in many domains in our life. (Stanford Professor Richard Zare said it well: “real problems are rarely solved by single department.”)
Even in the spa industry (where I work,) although there is much lip service given to holistic healing (“mind, body & spirit,”) the reality is that only a small percentage of spas actually seem to thoughtfully consider how they treat their clients beyond the physical domain. And most approaches to health and wellness seem to focus on nutrition and exercise (fuel and mechanics for the physical “machine.”) Where do the mind and spirit come in?
I’m excited to say that the idea of holistic wellness seems to be finally catching on. Specifically, I see a new model of wellness evolving around four simple concepts: Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. I first heard these words put together in this way from Marie-Josee Shaar, author of Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance (I wrote the foreword for the book here.)
Marie-Josee has found that she can improve her coaching clients’ wellbeing by looking at their lifestyle across these four categories (and perhaps more importantly, the interactions between them.) As an example, if someone isn’t exercising it could be due to lack of energy from not eating properly or not getting sufficient sleep. Or maybe they are just emotionally down, making it hard for them to find motivation.
While the categories of sleep, food, mood and exercise are fairly simple and easy for her clients to understand, Marie-Josee has done a lot of research on the intricate workings of each of these facets of wellness and how they alter the body’s chemistry in dramatic ways. True wellbeing comes when all four are being addressed adequately.
After hearing about Marie-Josee’s wellness model, I noticed a similar program being offered by Core Performance, a company offering elite corporate wellness programs (they’ve also created the fitness concept for our Sheraton hotel brand.) Core Performance’s model is based on recovery, nutrition, mindset and movement (another way of saying sleep, food, mood and exercise.)
And this June, the Harvard Medical School Department of Continuing Education offered a course on “The Revolutionary Practice of Mind Body Medicine.” What topics did they cover? You guessed it, “recuperative sleep, nutrition and supplements, healing beliefs, and exercise and physical activity.” Sleep, food, mood and exercise.
Diet and exercise have long been the staples of our daily dialogues around wellness, but they limit us to looking at the human body as a machine and leave out the psychosocial factors that affect our wellbeing. I am glad to see a more comprehensive model starting to emerge that truly considers the mind and spirit components in wellness. In fact, I think this model highlights the two biggest trends in wellness today: sleep/rest/recovery and mood/mindset/emotions.
But even more important than the expanding research in two additional domains of wellness, is a shift in philosophy towards a more holistic approach and a new breed of wellness experts like Marie-Josee Shaar, who don’t look at the body as a machine to be repaired, but consider how lifestyle, emotion, thoughts and behaviors all interact to determine our state of health.
Marie-Josee (and her co-author, Kathryn Britton) are teaching a course on this starting next week. If interested, register here.
References and recommended reading:
Shaar, M & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Positive Psychology Press.