Think about when you feel the best. It’s not simply when you’re free of illness, right? That’s because wellness encompasses the whole human being — your mind, body, and spirit.
When you’re at your best, in addition to having a healthy body (physical), you might also feel like you have purpose in life (spiritual), your relationships are meaningful (relational), your work is satisfying (vocational), and your living environment is safe (contextual). And each part of wellness is interconnected. Researchers call this the eight dimensions of wellness.
To help older adults — and the ones who love them — live their best life in old age, researchers tailored the eight dimensions of wellness to older adults. In contrast to the “medicalization” of aging, which spreads the notion that aging is a disease that must be treated with medicine, the eight dimensions of wellness for older adults offers a holistic approach. When older adults view themselves as a whole person — not just in terms of their deficits — it becomes increasingly possible to age well.
The 8 Dimensions of Wellness for Older Adults
The key is to strive for harmony, not necessarily to be equally balanced in all dimensions.
Let’s take a closer look at each dimension of wellness and its impact on healthy aging.
Developmental wellness is all about your perceptions of aging. What does growing older mean to you? Developmental wellness includes:
- Being realistic about the challenges associated with later life
- Imagining new ways of conceptualizing older adulthood
- Believing you are resilient and possess many strengths
Research shows that the more that you are hopeful and realistic about the process of growing older, the more likely you are to maintain your physical and emotional health.
Cognitive wellness is about exercising the mind, engaging in lifelong learning, and having confidence in your ability to expand your knowledge and skills. Cognitive wellness includes:
- Keeping your mind active and fit
- Believing you have control over your circumstances
- Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
Studies show that lifelong learning provides older adults with skills, confidence, and self-esteem, which not only leads to improved performance in learning a new language or mastering new technologies, for example, but also overcoming daily life challenges.
Physical wellness encompasses your perceptions of being physically healthy. This includes diet and exercise behaviors and caring for health. In what ways do you continue to care for your body? Physical wellness includes:
- Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
- Seeing your doctor regularly
- Developing healthy habits
Maintaining an optimal level of physical health allows you to nurture the other dimensions of wellness. For example, studies show that regular exercise builds strength and stamina and improves balance, actually reducing the risk of falling, and getting moving can help manage pain and improve strength and self-confidence.
Emotional wellness involves being hopeful about the future and exhibiting resilience when challenges arise. How well do you cope with life stress, express emotions, and feel positive about your life? Emotional wellness includes:
- Being aware and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors by managing them in a healthy way
- Being able to ask for help and seeking support with upsetting emotions
- Learning your strengths
Being emotionally well allows you to have a healthy relationship with yourself and increases your capability of forming healthy connections with others.
Spiritual wellness is about having a sense of purpose and meaning in life as well as engagement in spiritual or religious activities, such as connection with nature, self-reflection, meditation, and prayer. Spiritual wellness includes:
- Making time for activities that enhance your sense of connection to yourself, to nature, and to others
- Being part of a like-minded community
- Searching for meaning in life
Maintaining spiritual wellness helps expand your sense of purpose and gives more meaning to your days. Having a sense of peace can make it easier to get through any of those more difficult times.
Relational wellness involves having a strong support network, feeling connected to other people, and having a sense of belonging. Do you feel encouraged, accepted, supported, and taken care of? Relational wellness includes:
- Having a strong support network of family, friends, and peers
- Being able to reach out to others for support and ask for help when needed
- Taking part in a club, social group, or volunteer group
Vocational wellness is defined by a sense of meaning and purpose based in life pursuits. It involves exploring and determining activities that align with your individual purpose and meaning that mirrors personal goals, belief systems, lifestyle, and values. Vocational wellness includes:
- Preparing for and participating in work that is consistent with your values, goals, and lifestyle
- Finding your calling in this chapter of life, whether it’s in the form of a continued occupation, part-time work, or volunteering
- Using your strengths to provide resources like time, money, or love to others
Maintaining an optimal level of vocational wellness allows you to develop unique skills and talents that provide personal satisfaction and life enrichment.
Contextual wellness is shaped by your perceptions of adequate financial resources, safe and cohesive neighborhoods, and satisfaction with the overall physical environment and community. Contextual wellness includes:
- Making sure you are satisfied with your current financial situation and that your future will be secure
- Adapting to a new living context when additional support is necessary
- Reconceptualizing how to enjoy a familiar context when limited by a lack of mobility or transportation
Studies show that older adults who enroll in adult day health centers experience an increased quality of life thanks to the therapy, physical care, and social activities that are offered in a safe environment tailored to their functional level. Essentially, when an older person’s living context is supportive, older adults experience a higher sense of life quality.
For a more in-depth look at each dimension of wellness as well as research and statistics from aging and wellness experts, download our new report. By understanding the challenges that older adults face when it comes to aging well in later life, you can establish new, better habits that support your wellness goals.