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Understanding health and well-being & 10 ways to improve both

June 17, 2024 - 24 min read


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What is the difference between health and wellbeing?

The many dimensions of well-being

How are health and well-being connected?

The effects of stress on health and well-being

10 ways to improve your health and well-being together

Why habits are so important for health and well-being

Why you should prioritize health and well-being

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As we become more informed and connected, the evidence for boosting health and well-being only grows. Thousands of articles and companies tout the benefits of building better health. Everywhere you look, products promise to increase your well-being or make you healthier. But deciding which area to focus on first is a challenge.

Mental health is an essential component of an individual’s overall health. According to the World Health Organization, health is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being that transcends the absence of diseases or infirmity. 

While being healthy and well is a universal goal, figuring out how to achieve it is easier said than done. Discover the meaning of health and well-being to learn how they intersect, why they should be a priority, and ways to boost both.

Physical and mental health affects everything you do. One facet of health can affect the other.

Well-being, on the other hand, is the absence of “negative” things. It also includes having access to needed support. Well-being results from maintaining your physical, mental, and emotional states. It’s more than the absence of illness but extends to increased quality of life. Depending on your background and lifestyle, these factors may weigh heavily on your mental health.

Science recognizes two types of well-being: objective and subjective.

  1. Objective well-being: This metric reflects our basic human needs. These include food, education, health care services, safety, and shelter. Objective well-being rises and drops with social, cultural, and political events. Gauging well-being involves asking people to self-report the factors of well-being listed above. 
  2. Subjective well-being: This measures our perception and our experiential well-being. Gauging subjective well-being means asking people how they feel about their well-being. It relies on less tangible metrics like life satisfaction, social experience, and happiness. 

When viewed together, these factors create a snapshot of someone’s well-being.

These measures show a foundation of mental, physical, and even spiritual wellness, enabling good functioning. If you have health or well-being challenges, you may struggle with daily functioning. Let’s take a deeper look at why that is. 

The many dimensions of well-being

Well-being doesn’t come from one place or one activity. Achieving well-being often means satisfying your needs across many areas of life:

  • Physical health is a state of bodily well-being. You are free from illness, injury, or invisible illness like pain. You enjoy optimal functioning, strength, endurance, and general vitality.
  • Mental health is your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can impact your ability to make enough money to live comfortably, forge friendships, and reach goals. Mental health awareness is vital for personal functioning, social experience, and coping with chronic stress.
  • Social health is how well you interact and connect with others. Strong social health fosters strong relationships. It gives you a feeling of belonging and support within a community or workplace. Particular communities and groups may face more mental health challenges depending on their location or community experiences.
  • Environmental health focuses on the conditions and factors around you. Environmental factors include air and water quality, safe housing, and radiation protection.
  • Occupational health focuses on preventing workplace illnesses and injuries. It requires safe work environments, freedom from hazards, and a sense of security and psychological safety. Beyond individual occupational health, poor mental health support often affects teams (although poor well-being isn’t contagious.) 
  • Spiritual health means possessing a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection. It may present as inner peace, resilience, compassion (including self-compassion), or internal harmony. For some, it may involve religion but can also arise from a human connection and harmony with the world around you.

How are health and well-being connected?

There’s a direct link between your well-being and your physical health. Poor mental health and physical well-being impact the ability to fight off disease and make healthy choices. When your well-being starts to suffer, your physical health declines as well. Good mental health can boost immunity and lower inflammatory response.

It’s more difficult to perform well or stay healthy when your well-being is lacking. Health and well-being are interdependent states. When one falters, the other may be in jeopardy. 

How does well-being affect physical health?

Taking care of your well-being can have a positive impact on your health. You may want to incorporate mindfulness, meditation, and techniques like journaling or practicing gratitude to alter the perception of stress and depression. Taking care of your well-being isn’t just about feeling better in the moment. It can offer long-term benefits to your body.

How does physical health affect well-being?

Physical health informs your perception of well-being. A healthy body can enhance your quality of life. It can also enable you to participate in activities that boost your mood. For instance, routine exercise boosts endorphin levels. This can improve mood, reduce stress, and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also help build emotional regulation skills. Healthy people often sleep better, move more, and achieve their goals.

The relationship between mental and physical health

Just like well-being impacts health, mental health has very real and far-reaching impacts on physical health. Good mental health, in turn, is a key component of good physical health. When people experience excessive stress, it increases the risk of developing depression. Experiencing depressive symptoms can significantly decrease a person’s well-being and physical health. 

While depression is a mental disorder, it can have real impacts on the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can cause sexual problems, weight change, GI upset, and short-term memory issues. It can also cause muscle pain and fatigue, which make daily tasks more challenging.

Once this happens, a person’s physical health may also begin to suffer. 

However, taking care of physical health can help you boost mental health outcomes:

The relationship between mental health and well-being

Both physical and mental health impact well-being. When people feel mentally fit and balanced, they’re more resilient and able to bounce back. 

Likewise, both objective and subjective well-being affect mental health. 

When basic needs such as shelter, food, and freedom are met, you tend to be happier, feel less stressed, and be more present. This illustrates how comprehensive well-being promotes good mental health. 

The effects of stress on health and well-being

Stress is a global health issue. It affects most people, even young people. Chronic stress bleeds into every aspect of our lives and occupies our thoughts. It can make it harder to lead healthy lives, spurring substance abuse, increasing chronic disease, and reducing overall health.

While stress can come from many places, work is a common culprit. Recent data shows 64% of workers experience frequent stress on the job. 

Stressed, frustrated employees are 37% more frequently absent from work, 18% less productive, and 15% less profitable than their counterparts.

Examples of stressed workers include delivery drivers, warehouse workers, and programmers sleeping under their desks. They’re working longer hours due to high demand or company goals and policies. The result is excessive stress. The trend increases injury and exhaustion rates, damaging employee health. 

Over 90% of American workers report experiencing “extreme stress” at their jobs. Excessive stress makes it harder to “leave work at work,” decreasing well-being.  

Some companies respond to these complaints with a renewed commitment to employee wellness. However, the larger issues of the modern workplace persist.

10 ways to improve your health and well-being

Bringing more well-being into your daily life is as easy as adding new, healthy habits. Building these practices can improve health for all ages and types of people. 

Here are a few top tips:

1. Connect with others

Relationships with other people are critical to our well-being and mental health, and for good reason. Humans are social creatures. We evolved to live in tight-knit groups of other people. In evolutionary terms, our survival depended on it. 

Though society has evolved, our well-being still depends on connecting with others. Meaningful relationships enhance our sense of purpose, and time with others promotes healthy behaviors. 


Here are a few ways to connect, even from a distance:

  • Get on a FaceTime or Zoom call with a friend or loved one
  • Carve out quality time with your partner, housemates, kids, or whoever else you share a home with
  • Strengthen your connections by getting to know your neighbors
  • Send a text message to let a friend know you’re thinking of them
  • Start an online book club or find a new hobby with a group
  • Get outside for a walk with a good friend or loved one 

2. Be physically active

Exercise can improve sleep, boost your mood, and decrease anxiety, depression, and stress. 

Studies show that physical activity may help moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medications.  

If you want to reap the benefits of exercise for well-being, you can start small. A recent review associated exercise with a decrease in mental health issues and an increase in beneficial effects like improved sleep. 

3. Learn new skills

Learning is more than a positive way to spend your free time. It’s also an excellent way to maintain your well-being. 

Research shows that learning improves confidence and self-esteem. It promotes purpose, helps build connections with others, and may slow cognitive aging.

With that in mind, get out there and learn something new. Use a language app to learn a language. Sign up for a class at a local university. Audit a course. Listen to mental health podcasts or wellness content. It’s fun and good for your well-being.  

4. Give to others

Generosity feels great regardless, but it can also improve your well-being.

If you’re looking for a way to give back, start with your community. Research community organizations that support causes you’re interested in. Donate money or time to a local food bank or shelter. 

There are thousands of ways to be charitable, so you can find a cause that aligns with your interests.

5. Pay attention to the present

Most of us have experienced firsthand how stressful it is to live with our minds dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. When we live in the past, we get caught up in shame, anger, and regret.

When we’re focused on the future, it’s easy to dwell and stoke anxiety and anticipation about what will come.

Mindfulness can center your attention in the here and now. The Mayo Clinic defines it as being intensely aware of what you’re sensing without interpretation or judgment.

Practicing mindfulness helps you spend more time in the world around you as it is, not as you hope or fear it will be. Over time, mindfulness can promote many health and well-being benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Better mood and outlook
  • More focus

If you want to incorporate more mindfulness into your daily life, you can get help from a mobile app. You can do breathing exercises, walking meditation, exercise like yoga, or other practices to keep you grounded. 

6. Get regular checkups

Regular health and dental visits can boost your well-being as well as your physical health. Routine checkups help you prevent or address potential health issues. Meeting with health professionals gives you the opportunity to discuss concerns and keep things on track.

With your health handled, you can focus on daily life and improving your well-being in other ways.

7. Improve sleep quality 

Living on six hours of sleep might be possible, but it’s not helpful to your well-being or mental health journey. Increasing the duration and quality of sleep can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress.

Make sleep hygiene a focus of your day. Wind down from screens early (two hours before bed, ideally). Create a wind-down ritual that works for you. It might be meditation, a hot bath, or quiet reading time. Whatever it is, prepare your mind and your environment for a great night’s sleep.

8. Eat nutritious foods

Our bodies need the proper nutritional balance to thrive. Take the time to plan your meals to include the right components for a healthy diet. Limit refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine, since they affect health factors like sleep.

Pay attention to what your body doesn't want as well. For instance, avoid foods that cause ill effects or inflammation. For instance, if you have gut issues, experiment with removing dairy or gluten to see if you notice a change. Identifying food triggers can improve your health and your mental wellness.

9. Spend time outside

The health and happiness effects of nature are far-reaching. Spending time in the sunshine, on the ocean, or just getting fresh air helps you reset and find your center. Nature also offers a healthy break from our technology-heavy world.

Find places that inspire and calm you. Schedule those visits, or take some time to enjoy them when life seems heavy. Doing so has long-lasting health and wellness benefits. Wellness coaching can help you better embrace them all.

10. Practice gratitude

Practicing gratitude shifts the focus from what’s missing to what’s available in your life. Doing so can build your sense of contentment and well-being. Reflect on things you’re thankful for. Start or end your day by counting your blessings, and your well-being may swiftly improve.

Why habits are so important for health and well-being

Habits play a pivotal role in creating the foundation of our daily experience. When you build better habits, you set yourself up for behaviors that get more positive outcomes. Consistent action makes the behavior easier to maintain over time. It also ensures that it becomes a part of your self-perception.

For instance, making a habit of drinking water sets the tone for hydration throughout the day. Becoming someone who habitually reaches for water over all else has many positive effects. Good habits also reduce stress by providing structure and predictability. Over time, small changes become improvements in your physical and mental health. By prioritizing healthy habit formation, you can build a better future.

Why you should prioritize health and well-being

There are plenty of reasons to put your health and well-being first:

  • Better quality of life: Prioritizing health and well-being may help you find more enjoyment
  • Fewer sick days: Focusing on good health can lead to fewer illnesses
  • Better relationships: When you feel good about yourself, your interactions with others improve
  • More confidence: Achieving wellness goals related to health and fitness boosts self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Stronger resilience: Prioritizing well-being equips you with resilience against life’s challenges
  • More energy: Regular exercise and proper nutrition boost energy levels to make daily tasks easier
  • Longevity: Maintaining your health may lead to a longer life

Put health and well-being in focus with BetterUp

Health and well-being are more than just something that’s “nice to have.” Both are essential to our functioning, happiness, and fulfillment. 

In today’s fast-paced and often hectic world, it’s easy to let health and well-being slip. 

Fortunately, there are many ways you can improve your mental and physical health. It starts with understanding what creates well-being and knowing how to achieve it. Through mindfulness, movement, learning, and connection, you can drastically improve your well-being and health. 

If you want a partner to help you on your journey toward better health and well-being, find a BetterUp Coach today.


Enhance your health and wellness

Create a plan for a healthier life with personalized guidance from our wellness coaches.

Enhance your health and wellness

Create a plan for a healthier life with personalized guidance from our wellness coaches.

Published June 17, 2024

Maggie Wooll, MBA

Maggie Wooll is a researcher, author, and speaker focused on the evolving future of work. Formerly the lead researcher at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Princeton University and an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Maggie is passionate about creating better work and greater opportunities for all.

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