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Dimensions of Wellness – Part 7: Physical Wellness

With every New Year, the physical changes that naturally occur with age (e.g., receding hair-line, graying, wrinkles, visual acuity) become more and more apparent. Until recently, it seems that aging was generally accepted as a natural and expected part of the life cycle. Nowadays, with all the anti-aging products and treatments, it is as though war has been declared against the aging process. In today’s world, growing older is somehow perceived by some people as a pathological process to be eliminated.

Fortunately, growing older is a natural process and does not necessarily mean that people have to leave wellness behind along with their youth. A growing body of evidence indicates that lifestyle choices and health habits exert great influence on overall wellness – body, mind, and spirit. Although we as professionals in health care and social services may know about the benefits, sometimes our patients/clients need awareness, information and encouragement to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Whole-person wellness involves on-going effort to maintain balance in all aspects of life. Knowing that wellness becomes especially important for people with a chronic illness or experiencing age-related functional challenges, we encourage professionals to suggest older adults take responsibility for the following:

  1. Eat nutritious and balanced meals as food and beverage fuels the body.
  2. Exercise to enhance endurance, flexibility and strength.
  3. Ensure sufficient sleep/rest and general care when faced with a cold or minor illness.
  4. Emotions (e.g., coping, depth of feelings) can have a profound affect on the body, balance and harmony.1

Many deaths in the U.S have been directly linked to poor nutrition and inactivity2 which highlights the importance for professionals to assist older adults in understanding and taking responsibility to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. In addition, evidence indicates that physical activity, even begun in later life, influences physical and brain function, and overall health involvement with life.3

Encouraging older people to eat a healthy diet and to exercise regularly will produce multiple benefits for overall wellness and enhance the positive aspects of aging, naturally and with dignity. The mnemonic below is helpful in assessing risks for poor nutrition in older adults:

Risks to Poor Nutrition

  • Disease
  • Eating poorly
  • Tooth loss, mouth pain
  • Economic hardship
  • Reduced social contact
  • Multiple medications
  • Involuntary weight/loss or gain
  • Needs assist in self-care
  • Elder – above age 804

For older adults not getting sufficient nutrition, the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) recommends counseling. Counseling has proven to be an effective intervention that yields significant changes, especially among those who are at risk for diet-related chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The USPSTF encourages professionals to focus on:

  • Recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin D, B12, and Calcium.
  • Adequate intake of water.
  • Balanced diet including whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoiding high fats, excess alcohol and tobacco.5

In terms of exercise, studies from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) indicate that exercise improves balance, reduces falls by 33%, benefits those with knee arthritis, reduces stress and sleep problems, and that people are NEVER TOO OLD TO EXERCISE.6 The NIA recommends that, depending on primary health provider approval, older adults should be encouraged to be active and exercise most days of the week. They encourage professionals to help with an exercise plan and provide a written prescription for exercise, using a “start low and go slow” strategy. The rationale is that people are used to getting prescriptions and it would better convince older adults that exercise needs to be incorporated in their overall health plan.7

Recommended Resources – Evelyn’s Picks:


  1. Hettler, B. Six Dimensions of Wellness: Physical Wellness
  2. McGinnis & Foege, WH (1993). Actual causes of death in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association, 270(18), 2207-2202.
  3. Miller, C. (2004). Nursing for Wellness in Older Adults: Theory and Practice. 4th Edition. Philadelphia: Williams, Lippincott Williams & Wilcott.
  4. Mauk, KL (2006). Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. Boston: Jones & Bartlett.
  5. Ibid.
  6. National Institute on Aging: Encouraging Wellness. Available March, 2009, online 
  7. McDermott, AY & Merntz, H (2006). Exercise for patients: Prescribing guidelines. American Family Physician. 74(3).

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

For more information:

Go to the Senior Health health topic.