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The definition of health and wellness is complex and different for everyone.

Defining health and wellness

Care and health are relative concepts; that is, they are defined according to circumstances, contexts and people’s perceptions.

It’s interesting to examine individual perspectives on health and the extent to which people define themselves as ‘healthy’.

McMurray and Clendon (2015) suggest that health is characterised by balance and potential. They suggest that wellness is ‘a state of harmony between the physical, social, emotional and spiritual health of the individual’ (p. 8), and that when people are part of a healthy community they are able to achieve and maintain high levels of health and wellness.


This idea of connectivity between people and their environment originates from Halbert Dunn’s (1959) work on conceptualisation of positive health. Dunn defined wellness as a dynamic relationship between people and their environment and the wellness that comes when individuals use that environment to maintain balance and purposeful direction.

From this perspective, when people’s environments support their health choices they are able to reach their health potential. For example, having access to safe recreational spaces, exercise, nutritious food or immunisation.

Similarly, healthy communities contribute to the health of their citizens through a range of activities such as greening their environment, lobbying for resources for the homeless and mentally ill, and engaging in activities that promote social inclusion and connection.


Culture is multidimensional and understood to be based on shared identity, traditions, knowledge, art and customs, values and beliefs, language and meanings about the world (McMurray & Clendon, 2015; Talbot & Verrinder, 2010). Perceptions of health and wellbeing are also influenced by culture.

The meaning of health and wellness varies across and within cultural groups, as the expression of culture is different from one person to another depending on their individual characteristics or experiences (McMurray & Clendon, 2015).

Similarly, their experiences and understanding of health and wellness will vary. Diversity in language, religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, diet and food practices, values and beliefs and meaning attached to health and illness impact on personal and community perceptions of health.

It’s important for health care professionals and organisations to identify and acknowledge cultural factors that influence understandings of health and experiences of health care. Healthcare professionals should also develop culturally sensitive and appropriate strategies to engage with individuals and communities to facilitate access to information and services.

Culturally-safe practice is determined by the person or family experience of receiving care. It requires health professionals to reflect on their own culture, and consider how their culture impacts on their practice with people and families from a different culture (Nursing Council of New Zealand, 2011).

Your task

As you can see, health and wellness are individually defined. In the previous step we reflected on what being healthy means to you and what types of activities you engage in to stay healthy.

Take a moment to think about people with cultural backgrounds different to your own (eg these may be people who you have met in your personal life, professional practice or even in this course), and see if you can identify any differences between their perceptions of health and wellbeing and your own (eg diet, health, behaviours, traditions).

Add your thoughts to the Comments.


Dunn, H. L. (1959). High-level wellness for man and society. American Journal of Public Health and The Nation’s Health, 49(6), 786–792.
McMurray, A., & Clendon, J. (2015). Community health and wellness. Chatswood: Elsevier.
Nursing Council of New Zealand. (2011). Guidelines for Cultural Safety, the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori Health in Nursing Education and Practice.
Talbot, L., & Verrinder, G. (2013). Promoting health: The primary health care approach. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 5th edition.

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