A brief history of wellness

The corporate wellness market is a part of the larger global wellness market, which was valued at $3.4 trillion in 2014; making it even more massive than the giant that is the worldwide pharmaceutical industry at $1 trillion.

This reality however, has been thousands of years in the making: read on below for a brief account of the history of wellness.

Wellness, in its many forms, is a concept that has its roots in antiquity; its development and commercialization in the last century have set the stage for the corporate wellness scene to emerge into mainstream popularity.

It dates back to the practice of Ayurvedic medicine in India in 3000 B.C., which was the first system of its kind to encompass the three aspects of mind, body, and spirit in human beings. Ayurveda also recognized the need for individualized health regimens rather than a simple one-size-fits-all prescription for physical and mental health.

Aspects of this ancient health system are becoming popularized on a global level today, with millions of people and companies embracing the Ayurvedic practices of yoga and meditation. Last year in the U.S., the meditation market alone brought in revenues of nearly $1 billion.

There are several other ancient wellness traditions that played a role in the formation of modern wellness practices.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which aims to achieve health and wellbeing, as well as harmony within the individual, was developed around the same time as Ayurveda. Modern practices that originate in TCM include acupuncture, herbal medicine, tai chi and qi gong.

Later, Greek physician Hippocrates contributed the important insight that disease cannot only be treated, but likewise prevented, and this is mainly achieved through diet and lifestyle. The ancient Roman health and medical system, which was highly developed for its time (50 BC), continued with this understanding.

In the last millennium, wellness was further developed in different ways around the world. The seventeen and eighteen hundreds birthed therapies such as homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and chiropractic. Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, a number of publications on the topic of wellness established the concept that would then serve as the basis for many workplace wellness initiatives that are so prevalent today.

One of the first corporate wellness initiatives began in the 1980s, when U.S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop published a report linking tobacco use to addictive and dangerous health effects. His call to action involved “creating a smoke free society in the United States by the year 2000” (Vesely, 2012). With this, Boeing company’s then president, Malcolm Stamper, declared a company-wide workplace wellness initiative that would abolish smoking from all Boeing facilities by the year 1994.

The benefits of early programs, including some initiatives started by health conscious CEOs as early as the 60’s and 70’s, only began to be realized in the 90’s and beyond. Rising healthcare costs along with the availability of new data, health and financial measurement techniques, quickly led to a surge of companies eager to implement serious health promotion programs that would supposedly benefit the company in the long-term. Wellness practices old and new, from cultural traditions around the world, had finally begun to amalgamate for the betterment of society and in the process, attract a following of health-conscious individuals committed to ushering in the new era of improved human wellbeing.

For more information, read about the Seven Dimensions of Wellness here!


Works Cited

“History of Wellness.” 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.globalwellnessinstitute.org/history-of-wellness/.

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