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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Be Positive!

Posted by telos on June 30, 2011

The forecast is Positive!

For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. My subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail and suggested some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. This month’s habit for discussion is “Be Positive”.

Kicking yourself up the assets

Taking an ‘asset-based’ or positive approach to life has been a cardinal focus in the growing field of Positive Psychology. This research has demonstrated time and again that viewing life in a positive way is a far cry from the shallow philosophy espoused by Stuart Smalley, late of Saturday Night Live ”I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

As long ago as the 1980’s, educational research out of Stanford analyzing teaching performance reported that an approach focusing and building on a teacher’s ‘assets’ (i.e. their strengths, and what they did well) promoted high quality learning, while an approach focusing on a teacher’s ‘deficits’ (i.e. their weakness, and correcting what they were doing ‘wrong’) was far less effective. This ‘deficit-based’ approach however is still out there not only in education, but also in health, wellness and even Successful Aging!

Back in 2000 when I was an assistant professor at Arizona State University, I authored a book chapter in a major publication called “The Handbook of Health Psychology”. The title of the chapter was “Effects of physical activity on physical and psychological health:  Implications for exercise adherence and psychophysiological mechanisms” (A pretty long and involved title I admit, but then this was a pretty long and involved book – I was actually Chapter 38 out of 51!). The reason I bring this up here is that in my research for writing this chapter I was struck by the fact that almost everything I found on ‘psychological health’ in the scientific literature was about ‘getting less bad’.

Some 10 years later I am still seeing and reading much the same thing. The rationale(s) for setting and achieving wellness goals such as ‘getting active’, ‘getting fit’, or ‘eating healthy’ are still too often stated in terms of either reducing your actual bad stuff (e.g. losing weight) or on reducing your risk of bad stuff (e.g. risk of dying). With just a moment’s thought you could probably come up with your own list of the usual ‘bad stuff’ culprits: obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, stress, depression, anxiety, risk of a heart attack, risk of a stroke, etc.

I suspect this is a consequence of our long acquaintance with the ‘Medical Model’ of health – uniquely designed to kick in and fix the ‘bad stuff’, but with no designs at all on improving the ’good stuff’. The result of this is that we tend to view our wellbeing more in terms of how bad we aren’t rather than how good we are. When we try to improve our wellness behaviors we tend to focus more on overcoming obstacles rather than achieving goals, to focus on what we are not ‘going to get’ rather on what we will ‘be getting’.

One of the best known hypotheses in the field of Successful Aging is “The Compression of Morbidity”. This refers to the idea that the period of sickness (morbidity) at the end of life may be reduced (compressed) by adopting healthier lifestyles. This hypothesis has received much attention in the field of gerontology, and as a professor I have spoken about, and referred to it myself on many occasions. With my ‘Thinking differently’ hat on however, I see that, although this hypothesis was clearly aimed at doing good, it actually represented the ’getting less bad’ approach. Not much asset-kicking going on here! There is an obvious dichotomy between “Successful Aging” – a positive, asset-based concept, and “The Compression of Morbidity” a negative, deficit-based concept. So reframing this from a ‘Be Positive’ perspective, instead of “Compression” – why not “Expansion”? Instead of “Morbidity” – why not “Mobility”? And so we have “The Expansion of Mobility”. In other words ‘being better, longer’ instead of ‘being worse, shorter’.  Think about it.

What I have learned over the years both as a scientist and Intrinsic Coach® is that focusing on the positive aspects of pursuing an active lifestyle will bring you a host of positive benefits – you’ll look better and feel better about your self and your life, be more alert, have more energy, clearer thinking, better quality of life, better sleep, more independence.

And there’s more ….!

That old clichéd differentiation of people who either view ’the glass half empty or the glass half full’ reveals a pathway to some major (and positive!) consequences. You can learn to see the glass as ‘half full’ – you can learn to be optimistic! Check out Learned Optimism a landmark book by Dr. Martin Seligman, acknowledged as the founder of “Positive Psychology. The book is a decade old now but still relevant.

So as you think about the situations and goals in your life – what assets are kicking up for you?


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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Stay Strong!

Posted by telos on December 18, 2010

In my last post I wrote about the concept of “Successful Aging”, and gave a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. My next few posts will describe and explain each of these habits in greater detail and suggest some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. The first of these habits is

Stay Strong!”

strength is health!


Strength Training 101: Maintaining strength (staying strong) is now recognized as perhaps the most effective way to maintain and improve independence and a great way to ‘Energize your Aging”!


Strength Training is not rocket science, but there are some basic guidelines that, if followed, will ensure safe and effective exercise as well as keeping you on track for success. Happy Lifting!

  • Choose exercises that work your body’s major muscle groups (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Abdominals, Low Back, Legs)
  • Balance your routine by using a ‘Pushing’ exercise followed by a ‘Pulling’ exercise for opposing muscle groups e.g Chest (Push) with Back (Pull). Thighs (Push) with Hamstrings (Pull).
  • Work your larger muscle groups before your smaller ones (e.g. Chest and Back before Biceps and Triceps)
  • Start with 4-6 basic exercises for the first 4 weeks and then add one exercise each week up to a maximum of 10 as your skill and strength increases. A good ‘starter’ routine would be (in this order) 1. Chest Press, 2. Row, 3. Leg Press, 4. Leg Curl, 5. Abdominals, 6. Back Extension
  • Adjust each machine to best fit your body shape and size, using trial and error. Make a note of each adjustment and set them in place before each exercise
  • Start with a resistance (weight) you can comfortably perform for 10-12 repetitions. For the first few sessions, as your muscles adapt to their new work, aim for an effort of around 5 out of 10 on a ‘How hard does this feel?” scale (where 10 is the maximum and 1 the minimum).
  • Once you are familiar with the machines and exercises you can start to progressively add additional weight/resistance. Your goal will be to eventually work up to a resistance that feels between 8 and10 on your “How hard does this feel?” scale
  • Your ‘rule of thumb’ for progression is to add weight once you are able to complete 12 repetitions with good technique for 2 consecutive sessions. Add no more than one block of a machine weight stack (or approximately 5% of your previous resistance, whichever is least) for each progression
  • Focus on good technique throughout each exercise.
    • Take a breath in at the starting position of the lift
    • Breath out as you perform the lift
    • Breath in as you return to the starting position
    • Continue with this breathing rhythm for the required number of repetitions
  • The speed of movement for each exercise should be approximately 2 seconds   for the ‘lift’ phase and 4 seconds for the ‘return’ phase’. However don’t get bogged down by the ‘arithmetic’! Focus on “Slower back than out”
  • Perform one set of each exercise 2 to 3 sessions per week. You can obtain similar strength gains from 2 sessions per week as from 3, so you don’t have to worry too much on a busy week.
  • Use a Training Log to record your progress. Apart from keeping yourself on track, looking back to see how far you have progressed is highly motivating!  NOTE: Contact me and I will send you a training log via email

If you follow these general guidelines you will be able to safely complete a strength training session in 30 minutes or less including warm up and cool down, even with the maximum of 10 exercises.

NOTE: This post is based on “Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging” an article which appeared in my ”Energize your Aging!” column for the December Newsletter of “Aging with Grace” a nationally renowned aging services company whose mission is to educate, coordinate, and facilitate individualized eldercare options one family at a time. Check out their Newsletter @

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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging – It’s all about Behavior

Posted by telos on December 13, 2010

The book!

Having recently returned from the excellent International Council on Active Aging Annual Conference in San Diego, I have been thinking about and talking even more than usual about lifestyle ‘behavior’ and how it relates to independence and quality of life in our ‘Second Fifty. Here’s the result of all that pondering!

Back in 2004 the then Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Richard Cardoma was quoted as saying

“In the next 10 years one of the major issues in Health Care will be moving from receiving health care to embracing health prevention and wellness.”

More relevant to the topic of this article he also said

“Being physically active with a good diet and an active healthy lifestyle will not only do us good as individuals but will also dramatically reduce health care costs.”

These statements, while undeniably true, await more action and commitment from both government and population for their full benefits to be gained, perhaps in part because words like ‘action’ and ‘commitment’ sound like they are hard to do. Whatever the real reasons, the fact is that most seniors – just like other segments of the population – are relatively inactive. The good news, however – and contrary to conventional wisdom – is that adopting a more active, healthy lifestyle does not have to be hard, and is within the grasp of virtually anyone, as I will explain below.

I don’t think many people would argue with the statement that the most important thing for all of us as we age is to remain independent and healthy as long as possible. People know this instinctively, of course, and they certainly don’t need research to back up this feeling. However, as someone who has always been curious about such things I am always interested in the ‘how’ ‘what’ and ‘why’. Because of this, I have compiled a series of posts that I hope will act as a sort of mini-primer of lifestyle habits that research has shown to be strongly connected to active, healthy aging. This first post provides a brief overview of ‘Successful Aging’ and nine ‘habits‘ that are correlated with this concept.  Future posts will feature each one of the nine listed below. I am however providing one or two links to get you interested – or maybe get you started!

Successful Aging: The term “Successful Aging” was first used by two researchers Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn in their 1998 book of the same name. It summarized, in non-scientific terms, the findings of the decades-long MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging. This study looked at thousands of individuals who (in the author’s words) were ‘aging well.” We all know people like this of course: they look and act much younger than their chronological age, and seem to be far healthier and more active than their peers. The Study on Aging was designed to identify any factors which were common to these ‘Successful Agers’ and which separated them from the majority who were “Usual Agers’. As the authors so succinctly put it

“We were trying to pinpoint the many factors that conspire to put one octogenarian on cross-country skis and another in a wheelchair”

This landmark study identified three overarching elements of Successful Aging: (i) higher mental and physical function (ii) lower risk of disease and disability and (iii) more active engagement with life. In lifestyle terms these three components of Successful Aging can be broken down into specific lifestyle behaviors.

  1. Stay strong: Start a regular resistance training program to increase your strength and endurance. You can use free weights (dumbbells and barbells), weight training machines, or elastic tubing. You are never too old to benefit from this kind of training, and you can see and feel these benefits in as little as 20 minutes twice per week. Begin with four to six exercises that work your major muscle groups. Increase your resistance gradually as you get stronger. The important thing to know is that strength training is safe and effective for the great majority of older adults. Check out this link from the CDC for more details .
  2. Stay physically active: Way back in 1996, The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health told us that walking briskly for a minimum of 30 minutes on most, preferably all days of the week, would provide great health benefits. If 30 minutes sounds like a long time to walk – no problem – you can accumulate this time throughout the day. So, for example, instead of ‘doing the 30’ all at once, you could walk 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. How easy is that?
  3. Maintain normal weight: Easier to say than to do? Not really, if you combine regular moderate intensity physical activity with strength training and a balanced diet you will have the optimal approach to weight management. As a good start to  the ‘what should I eat’ question, check out Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: an eaters manual.“ Lots of great information as well as entertaining to read! His general advice is “Eat Food, not too much, mainly plants.” Read his book to find out what he means! Find it @
  4. Adopt good sleep habits: Establish a regular bed- and wake-time schedule that will improve your sleep quality. Avoid coffee or other drinks with stimulants at least 2 hours before sleep. Make your sleep area cool, dark and quiet. Check out the National Sleep Foundations “Sleeping Well Leads to Aging Well” @
  5. Maintain social contacts: Keep in touch with friends and family. Turn off the TV. Have conversations over meals, write letters, email or connect via the internet.  Attend social events and introduce yourself. Start or continue a hobby and search for similar groups in your area. Own a pet and meet people in the dog park! Give and receive hugs! Check out my blog post “With a little help from your friends” @
  6. Keep an alert and curious mind: Learn a new skill. Expand your horizons. Participate in classes and conversations, keep up with the news, have an opinion – and share it.
  7. Be self vigilant: Regularly check your overall physical, mental and medical condition. Ask yourself “How do I feel?” and listen to the answer. Establish a good relationship with your doctor and follow up with him or her if your self-check reveals something of concern.
  8. Engage with your environment: Look for ways to contribute. Volunteer for services such as “Meals on Wheels,” senior center programs, church groups and civic, or intergenerational organizations. Become involved with social or community programs that are interesting to you. Be a provider as well as a receiver of support.
  9. Be Positive: Research has shown that focussing on the positive aspects of being active is far more beneficial than focussing on the negative aspects of not being active. The new field of “Positive Psychology” has also shown that people who have a more optimistic view of things do better in life: they earn more money, are more successful, have more friends and even live longer. And as this wasn’t positive enough, you can even learn to be optimistic. Check out my blog post “Getting Less Bad” @

NOTE: This post is based on “Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging” an article which appeared in my ”Energize your Aging!” column for the November Newsletter of “Aging with Grace” a nationally renowned aging services company whose mission is to educate, coordinate, and facilitate individualized eldercare options one family at a time. Check out the Newsletter @


Posted in Behavior Change, Goal setting, Physical Activity, Successful Aging, Wellness | Leave a Comment »

Asking the Expert – making your own difference

Posted by telos on October 15, 2009

Ask the ExpertWhen we want to ‘make a difference’ in our lives (get more active, get fit, lose weight, reduce stress etc), we go to an ‘expert’ for advice, guidance and, often, motivation. After all, an expert is usually someone who is highly trained and highly knowledgeable. This means that they know what to do. More importantly they know what YOU should do, what you ought to do (and of course what you have been meaning to do for some time!). When you meet with your expert what happens typically follows a common path – an approach that I call “Show and Tell”.

In simple terms here’s what these interactions usually look like:

Step 1. You meet with, and talk to an ‘expert’ about what your goal is (“I want to lose weight, get fit, reduce stress etc”)

Step 2. Then, after a conversation that varies in length from person to person, the expert first shows you what to do “Just follow these steps (and/or directions and/or advice”, and then tells you how to do it. “Make  sure you do it like this (and then this, and then this…”)

Step 3. The expert keeps showing you and telling you in different ways until you do it ‘properly’. If you do not succeed in making your goal, the typical expert response is something like

“Ok why do you think you didn’t make it?” or maybe “Ok let’s try (something different) this time”

By the way, the other thing to mention here is that if you don’t ‘make it’, the fault is almost always assumed to be yours (both by you and by the expert). Maybe you just didn’t try hard enough, or have enough will power, or enough commitment etc. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing about this ‘Show and Tell’ approach. It is at its most effective only in Kindergarten! My children loved their Show and Tell sessions but have long since outgrown them and moved on to more appropriate learning methods. However, in my field of exercise, wellness and physical activity, Show and Tell still reigns supreme. The kind of three-step approach I describe above, is based on the assumption that if you simply provide intelligent people with important and understandable information about the benefits of healthy behaviors (or, more frequently, the risks of unhealthy behaviors) then they will take this to heart and ‘just do it’ (with apologies to Nike!). There is no question that, assuming the information and instruction provided is accurate, this really would be a highly effective approach

if only people would do it!

However history has shown us that, even with the ever-increasing availability of health and wellness information in the media and on the internet, more people are overweight and sedentary than ever before. It is clear that knowing what to do, or having an expert show and tell us what to do simply does not work – but we continue to ask them anyway!

This is not the fault of the expert, who has been through some highly demanding academic training that prepares them to offer their own thinking and expertise to the client as to what they ‘should’ do. It’s also not the fault of the client – who is prepared to believe that the expert knows best – after all that’s why they are an expert! The tendency is therefore that the expert will think (indeed, are trained to think) they know best for the client and the client will think that the expert knows best for them – that is, after all, why they went to him/her in the first place. No-one is ‘at fault’ here – it is fault neutral! However …..

It is time for a new way of thinking

Making your own difference: You are a singular and unique individual on this planet, you have your own goals and aspirations, your own motivations and inspirations, your own wants and your own needs your own ‘angels’ and your own ‘demons’. Here’s that new thinking – try this on for size!

YOU are the expert on you

No-one knows you better than you – no-one! You know instinctively this must be true, so think about what logically follows. If you pass over responsibility for yourself to someone else – to someone who knows only what they see of you, maybe has only just met you for the first time – to someone who can only work with what is merely apparent to them – how can you realistically expect something important and lasting to happen for you?

If you ask someone to ‘prescribe a program’ for you – and you take responsibility for doing the program. What you are actually doing is taking responsibility for THAT person’s program – for someone else’s stuff! After all they made it up FOR you. If and when you start, or – like so many others before, re-start such a program – you do so more in hope than expectation. This is no way to achieve a goal. Experts know all about ‘cause and effect’ – this is their training, this is their knowledge. They know that “If you do ‘this’, then ‘this’ will happen”. However they don’t know YOU – they haven’t been educated in YOU – the don’t have a degree in YOU.

We hear a lot these days about ‘personal responsibility’ – for health, for being active etc, and we hear about how it’s all down to us. At base, this is true of course – responsibility for our health is, in the main, ours. Taking responsibility is a good and desirable thing, but if you do take it, you’d better make sure it’s responsibility for something that’s yours – not someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t do.

This is the new thinking – where you go from here is all about what’s important to YOU

I have also written about the related concept of  “Thinking Different” in a series of  previous posts – check out

More later


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Well, Well, Well,

Posted by telos on February 8, 2009

body mind spirit

body mind spirit


Building ‘Wellness Cultures’  in Senior communities

In recent years ‘Wellness’ has received much attention and the benefits of adopting what has come to be known as a ‘wellness lifestyle’ has been confirmed and reconfirmed from a wide variety of ‘evidence-based’ research. There can be little doubt that for senior residential and retirement communities a wellness program, appropriately designed, can elicit a whole range of behavioral, health and even economic benefits for the facility, the residents and the facility staff.

Wellness, however is not just about ‘exercising’, ‘eating right’ or taking your medications. It is also, in its fullest expression, not a single ‘program’, or even a collection of separate ‘programs’. Wellness is actually a very broad and somewhat indefinable concept which can be thought of as a journey rather than a destination, a process rather than a product. It is also often described as consisting a number of diverse but linked ‘dimensions’, including physical, emotional, social, vocational, spiritual and intellectual.  I will be writing more about these later but suffice to say that when these dimensions are appropriately implemented, merged and developed, a comprehensive evidence-based Wellness ‘Program’ evolves into a Wellness ‘Culture’, something that becomes an integral and positive part of the community in which it resides.

For any successful senior residential facility manager, resident quality of life is surely at the top of their goals list. Increased quality of life means greater resident satisfaction, morale and consequently less resident turnover (plus, it makes management both feel and look good!). From a ‘bottom line’ perspective, a successfully implemented, values-based wellness program will reduce operating costs, reduce health care costs and be a major PR focus for attracting new residents.

Quality of life is the key to a successful community

Quality of life however depends on more than just bricks and mortar, more than providing fine accommodation, meals and services – it even depends on more than good health care provision, which traditionally has a ‘deficit-based’ or ‘reactive’ approach to health (fix the bad stuff). Our Intrinsic WellnessTM approach is founded on an ‘asset based’ or ‘proactive’ philosophy (increase the good stuff). It is build, developed and guided in great part on participants choosing and becoming involved in activities that are important to them, that are intrinsically meaningful to them, and in which they have ‘ownership’.

I well remember many years ago as a young man being ‘the wellness bloke’ (it was in the UK and they use strange words like ‘bloke’ over there. In the US I would have been the wellness ‘guy’). Anyway to continue with my story – I would go into the facility or residence, do my ‘wellness program’ (usually an exercise class of some kind) and then leave – taking my ‘wellness’ with me! Before my arrival – and after my departure – things went on much as they did before! These days the awareness of wellness is certainly much greater (as, I am glad to tell you, is mine!), but it is still a word – and an approach much misunderstood and I could say also, much maligned, or at least underestimated. For example, I have experienced ‘wellness programs’ that consist only of medically oriented activities such as blood pressure screenings, or ‘taking your medication’ or ‘regular medical checkups’. Or wellness programs that consist only of ‘brown bag’ talks on various aspects of health. Of course these factors are important – but are not of themselves the whole of wellness or of a ‘wellness program’.

True wellness is determined by the informed choices or decisions a person makes about how they live their lives with vitality, meaning and purpose. A successful intrinsically derived wellness program appropriately integrated into a senior community can offer these choices to residents, and management alike. This will enable the community to become a place where quality of life is enhanced, a place of rejuvenation rather than a place where the attitude is one of ‘making the best of things’, of inevitable decline and deterioration. In effect a ‘true’ wellness approach is integral to the community rather than simply a ‘program’ that consists of set classes conducted at set times.

The AgeWELL Initiatives philosophy is to cooperatively partner with residents, facility management and staff so that we can collaboratively initiate and develop a wellness culture that becomes part of the fabric of their community, and that they are a part of.

For more details on establishing and developing an Intrinsic WellnessTM culture in your facility, either leave a comment on this post or check out our website . You may also call Dr. Wayne T Phillips @ (602) 793-0752


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Getting Wellness down Pat

Posted by telos on February 4, 2009

Wellness Wheel

Pat's Wellness Wheel

A few weeks ago I was a guest on the Pat McMahon Show, AZTV 7, Cable 13. It was a lot of fun – Pat is a great guy with a sense of humor and a talent for relating to people of all kinds. I was there to talk about Active Rx a company that does excellent work with older adults – pro-actively working with them to optimize physical and wellness function.

During part of our interview Pat asked some general questions about wellness and though I was happy to answer them as best I could in the time we had, they prompted some more detailed thoughts that I wanted to share in this post

Wellness is a term that is hard to pin down – it always sounds positive of course – and perhaps people could use it accurately in a sentence – but what is it exactly? I Googled this once out of curiosity  – and not surprisingly got thousands of hits! More surprising was the whole range of wellness ‘situations’ that came up – here are some examples

The Wellness Revolution: How to Make a Fortune in the Next Trillion Dollar Industry, Marketing to the New Natural Consumer: Consumer Trends Forming the Wellness Category, Wellness Foods A to Z, Reconnecting With Nature: Finding Wellness Through Restoring Your Bond With the Earth, Digestive Wellness, Mystic Healers & Medicine Shows: Blazing Trails to Wellness in the Old West and Beyond, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness: Feel, Think, and Live Better Than You Ever Thought Possible,

 …and my own personal favorite “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wellness “ –  LOVE to get my hands on that one! I even found a Quaker Oats Cereal with the words “An expedition into Wellness” emblazoned across the front of the packet. Wellness with fiber! Who would have thought it!

 So to go back to my original question – but what is it exactly? What is wellness? Googling clearly does not help!  

History tells us that a man by the name of Halbert Dunn is acknowledged as the first author to use the term in his book “High Level Wellness” back in the ’60s, and he defined it as follows

… an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable.  It requires that the individual maintain a continuum of balance and purposeful direction within the environment where he or she is functioning.

                                                                                                                                                                 Halbert L Dunn, M.D., Ph.D. “High Level Wellness” 1961.

When I first came across this book and this quote as a graduate student, my first reaction was “Huh?” – and I haven’t travelled too far from that reaction even now! In the world of academia where I came from ‘Wellness’ is typically described as being made up of different ‘components’, or ‘dimensions’, the number varying according to which authority you are reading. The most quoted of these components/dimensions are: ‘physical’, ‘social’, ’emotional’, ‘intellectual’, ‘spiritual’, and occasionally also ‘occupational’, ‘vocational’ and ‘environmental’ – check out the Wellness Wheel image above for one Wellness ‘model’. I’ll be writing more about wellness components in later posts but the point to make here is that wellness is a broad and perhaps indefinable concept that I would say is more of a journey than a destination, more of a process than a product. The Wellness Councils of America define ‘Wellness’ as ” …the process of being aware of and actively working towards better health.”

In short Wellness is all about behavior – and lifestyle choices – and it’s always your choice.

So, loved the show – and thanks for the opportunity to Get Wellness down, Pat. Looking forward to our next conversation.


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