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On the Whole: A Holistic Approach to Wellness

By Martha Michael

Happy Healthy Fitness Woman in Her 50s

Leaders in the medical field are increasingly connecting the dots between various aspects of overall health, acknowledging that basic physical function is only half the story about an individual’s wellness. They no longer claim to get a complete assessment from an old school checkup with a stethoscope, thermometer and tongue depressor.

A holistic approach has become part and parcel to standard medical methodology, both in America as well as other places on the planet. Practices such as chiropractic wellness, mindful meditation, and acupressure have become much more mainstream elements of many Americans’ health practices.


The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” That is consistent with the approach of such facilities as Cleveland’s University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network, one of many that offer healing for the “mind, body and spirit.” Ditching the definition of well-being as “the absence of disease,” their approach involves focusing on the whole person -- the physical, psychological and emotional self.

Through the practice of holistic, integrative medical treatment offered at UH Connor, practitioners aim to:

  • Reduce symptoms and pain
  • Enhance immune function
  • Decrease the impact of stress
  • Reverse consequences of disease

According to the medical network’s website, the success rate of integrative medicine to treat a chronic condition is as high as 75 percent. Taking statistics from the publication Integrative Medicine in America, UH Connor says that more than half its patients affirm the effectiveness of alternative medicine for gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and chronic constipation. Other conditions they mention treating holistically are depression and anxiety.

The types of therapies offered to patients at UH Connor include acupuncture, stress management and nutritional support for a range of issues, including serious illnesses such as cancer. They successfully use relaxation techniques to improve mood, and integrative medical practices such as mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, anger and anxiety. They’ve seen integrative, holistic techniques suppress pain resulting from fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic lower back pain.

Research at UH Connor shows the highest success rate when using integrative medicine for chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, depression/anxiety, cancer and stress.

When it comes to holistic health, the two most common approaches are acupuncture and chiropractic. Today, chiropractic has become the gold standard in alternative care and has gained recognition as the largest natural healing profession in the world.

Holistic Health

A review in the American Journal of Public Health looks at benefits gained by participation in the creative arts. Researchers found the most common forms of creative expression contributing to wellness were visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, music engagement, and expressive writing.

Writers of the report say one of their aims is to bring attention to the connection between health and creative arts.

“Engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one's own creative efforts, can enhance one's moods, emotions, and other psychological states, as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters,” the report says.

These experts suggest that creativity may even have the power to reduce the negative effects of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by minimizing problems with chronic stress and depression. The arts enable those who are suffering to communicate emotions that may otherwise be difficult to endure. Research shows that music can reduce the brain’s neural activity and, thus, control pain or minimize anxiety.

Perhaps no medical field epitomizes a holistic theory of wellness more than chiropractic medicine. Modalities of treatment are aimed at restoring balance, a working together of all parts for the good of the whole body. Procedures are designed to maximize function throughout the musculoskeletal regions, and when synergy is restored, patients can experience again how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Society’s Standards

This broad definition of health has become a part of the culture’s conscience, according to Kerri Krom on Looking at the results of consumer research, Krom says that consumers consider health and wellness a combination involving both body and mind. It is officially a part of the lifestyle of most modern women.

“Wellness is multi-dimensional, holistic, changes over time and along a continuum, and is most importantly individual, but also influenced by the environment and community,” Krom says, backing up her claims with marketing facts.

Vitamins and supplement sales will reach $13.9 billion by 2018, a 58 percent increase from 2008, she says. And then there’s the skyrocketing popularity of such devices as juicers, FitBit and Timex Sport. A lot of money changes hands in the health and wellness industry, mostly in age-defying beauty products, fitness, and finally, nutrition and weight loss products and services.

These industry trends may just mean that holistic habits are “a thing,” but whether the practice is based on 100 percent conviction or just a fad, the message is out there and continues to be underscored by research. When people are able to try it on for size and sense the difference, they see that when all their body parts are receiving proper attention, they feel better. It’s a healthier dose of reality, giving them a shot at leading a long life in cadence with a more complete wellness plan. And that’s not half bad.

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