The concept of wellness has changed greatly over the last 50 years.

Wellness used to be thought of as the absence of illness. If you were not ill then you were, by definition, well.

Wellness is no longer perceived as simply being the absence of infirmity but something more nuanced. It is now thought of as an active, conscious process in which a person makes choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.

Wellness can be broken down into eight interrelated dimensions. They are: physical, social, environmental, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial and vocational. We need to attend to each area of wellness, or we fail to reach our full potential-our healthiest selves.

The Oregon Area Senior Center offers services and programming that support each of those eight dimensions and help seniors consciously move toward optimum wellness.

To understand the concept of wellness, it helps to look more closely at the eight components individually. What constitutes wellness is more obvious in some components than in others.

Physical wellness is easy to understand, and the decisions we can make to support it are generally obvious. They include exercise, proper nutrition, appropriate sleep and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and consuming too much alcohol.

But people also need to make and keep medical and dental appointments, actually do the physical therapy exercises provided to them, take their medications properly and stay hydrated.

Intellectual wellness involves keeping our minds alert and interested. Nurturing intellectual wellness is different for everyone, but can take the form of reading, attending book clubs, taking classes, journaling, playing games, solving puzzles and pursuing creative hobbies.

Emotional wellness might be easier to grasp if we understand the outcomes of emotional health.

Emotionally healthy people are resilient. They are able to handle challenges and deal respectfully with others. They can express their thoughts and feelings and absorb the thoughts and feelings of others. An emotionally healthy person is aware of and comfortable with his or her feelings.

Taking care of our emotional well-being can take the form of journaling to express our thoughts and feelings, seeking out ways to manage stress, obtaining counseling for grief or mental health (or other issues) when appropriate, having someone in your social circle you can unburden yourself to and searching out opportunities to laugh. Laughter is very good for our emotional health.

Social wellness is garnering a lot of attention in the realm of senior health. Research shows loneliness is as harmful to overall health as failure to take medications can be.

Social wellness depends on people being comfortable enough with themselves to engage with others. Social wellness requires connections with others, whether they are people or pets, and whether the connections are formal or informal.

The senior center offers opportunities for connections with others at a point in life when one’s previous social circles may be shrinking.

We have to consider several different types of environments when we consider environmental wellness. It encompasses many elements, not all of them easy for an individual to control.

Spending time outdoors and connecting with the natural world is important, but so is making sure your home is safe and well-lighted without trip hazards. The space in which you spend your time ideally should be one that brings you pleasure. Your community should be easy for you to navigate.

Understanding financial wellness is not difficult. It requires having sufficient resources to cover one’s basic needs.

People can further their own financial wellness by avoiding scams and exploitation, by creating financial documents such as powers of attorney and by living within their budgets.

Spiritual wellness focuses on living with a sense of purpose in life, guided by one’s personal values. It often involves activities that lift us beyond the physical realm of existence.

Faith-based activities fall under this dimension, as do activities such as meditation, mindful exercises like yoga and tai chi and living with a sense of gratitude. Some people find nature nurtures their spiritual side, while others might find a gratitude journal helpful.

Seniors might address vocational wellness differently from how they did earlier in their lives. A satisfying career can take care of this dimension, but once we are no longer working, it might not be as obvious how we can receive satisfaction from the valuable life and work skills we have developed over the years.

Having an opportunity to contribute and be valued is a component of our overall wellness.

Some people find fulfillment in simply extending their working years. Others choose to use those skills in volunteer positions. Still others become mentors, often informally or care-givers.

When one of those eight dimensions is not going well, others suffer. In order to benefit from them, people need to make the conscious decision to participate and invest in their own wellness.

Virtually every service or program the senior center offers is supports at least one, and generally several, dimensions of wellness.

If you would like assistance improving any aspect of your own wellness, do not hesitate to call us at 835-5801. We will be glad to help guide you in directions that could lead you to a higher level of wellness.

Rachel Brickner is the director of the Oregon Area Senior Center. She can be contacted at rbrickner@vil.oregon.wi.us or 835-5801.