The word wellness begins with ancient roots. As a modern concept, wellness has gained popularity since the 1950s, when the writings of an informal network pf physicians and thinkers in the USA largely shaped the way we conceptualize and talk about wellness today.

The origins of the word, however, are far older. Aspects of the concept are firmly rooted in several religious and medical movements in the United States and Europe in the 19th century. The beginnings of well-being trends can be traced back to ancient Greece, Rome and Asia, whose historical traditions have influenced modern day wellness.

3000BC: Ayurveda originated as an oral tradition, later recorded in four sacred Hindu texts. A holistic system that strived to create harmony between body, mind and spirit. The Ayurvedic regime was tailored to each person’s individual needs such as nutrition, exercise and hygiene, with the goal of maintaining a balance that prevented illness.

50BC: Ancient Roman medicine emphasized disease prevention, adopting a Greek belief that illness was a result of diet and lifestyle. Ancient Rome’s highly developed public health system helped to prevent the spreading of germs and maintained a healthier population.

1650s: The use of the word “wellness” in the English language meant the opposite of illness or the “state of being well or in good health” dates to the 1650s according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest published reference is from 1654 in a diary entry of Sir Archibald Johnston “I blessed God for my daughter’s wealnesse”.

1860s: German priest Sebastian Kneipp promoted combining hydrotherapy with herbalism, exercise and nutrition. The New Thought movement also emerged, around Phineas Quimby’s theories of mentally-aided healing.

1900s: Director John Harvey Kellogg encourages a healthy diet, exercise, fresh air and “learning to stay well” as the definition of wellness. He focussed on the body’s natural ability to heal itself through dietary and lifestyle changes. This spreads through to the USA from Europe and dietary modification programmes are born.

evolution of wellness

The 20th Century

The modern use of the word wellness dates to the 1950s from work by physician Halbert L Dunn in his book High-Level Wellness. Although Dunn’s work was not well received at first, in the 1970’s it was picked up by individuals in the US and individual models of wellness were developed and the concept was actively being spoken about. In the 1980s, the wellness movement begins to gain momentum and taken more seriously by the medical and corporate worlds. Move government-sponsored programmes emerged to promote healthier lifestyles and the modern concept of well being spread across Europe where the European Wellness Union was founded in 1990.

Within the 20th Century, many corporations begin developing workplace wellness schemes and the fitness and well-being industry globally experienced rapid growth. As an ever-growing line of celebrities started introducing wellness concepts to a mainstream audience, products including cosmetics and supplements thrived in a busy market place.

The 21st Century

By 2014, more than half of global employers are using health promotion strategies, while a third have invested in full-blown wellness become household names. The wellness supplement market is a trillion dollar industry, 3 times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry with many segments including Beauty & Anti-Aging ($1.03 trillion), Healthy Eating/Nutrition/Weight Loss ($574 billion), Fitness & Mind-Body ($446 billion), Wellness Tourism ($494 billion), Personalised Health ($433 billion), Alternative Medicine ($187 billion), Wellness Lifestyle ($100 billion), Spa Industry ($94 billion), Thermal/Mineral Springs ($50 billion) and Workplace Wellness ($41 billion).