When Did the Wellness Movement Start?

when did wellness movement start

The wellness movement has been around since the 20th century, however it wasn’t until the 1980s that it really started to become popular. It was also around then that companies started taking a more proactive approach to their people’s wellbeing, meaning that they were more likely to invest in it.

Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks were a powerful civilization that influenced many areas of philosophy, education, science, and arts. Their philosophy still shapes debates today about ethics, politics, and theology.

Ancient Greek culture thrived on logic and questioning, as evidenced by the dialogues of Plato and Aristotle. The philosophers also created the scientific method to explore natural phenomena.

The Greeks also practiced the aristocracy, which was a small group of wealthy landowners who controlled their cities. They fought frequent petty inter-city wars over land.

Ancient Romans

In ancient Rome, health was a priority. Roman doctors were based on superstition and common sense, using plants as medicines for the sick.

Aqueducts brought fresh water into towns and sewage was filtered from muddy streams. They also used plants like poppy seeds, bark from willow trees and dandelion leaves for healing.

In Rome, the basic unit of society was the household and family. The head of the household, called a paterfamilias, often shared power with his wife and children.

Early 20th Century

During the early 20th century, Americans developed a wellness culture based on diet and exercise. They also became more aware of the connection between poor sanitation and disease.

Health-promoting activities began to spread throughout the country, from affluent cities to poor neighborhoods. A variety of approaches emerged, including vegetarianism, open-air exercise, nudism, sunbathing and spas.


The modern wellness movement is largely attributed to the writings and leadership of an informal network of physicians and thinkers in the United States. These authors embraced the idea of “high level wellness,” which they defined as a state of optimal health that involves physical, psychological and social well-being.

These concepts were based on the tenets of several 19th century intellectual, religious and medical movements, like New Thought, Christian Science, and Lebensreform, all of which promoted holistic and preventive medicine. Aspects of these modalities have become firmly embedded in modern wellness as we know it today.


The wellness movement as we know it today grew from the writings and leadership of an informal network of physicians and thinkers in the United States in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. However, its roots go far beyond this period.

In the 1970s, John Travis opened a wellness center in Mill Valley, California. The center became a watershed moment in the wellness movement, drawing national attention. Dan Rather and 60 Minutes interviewed John for their 1979 television show, and his work inspired thousands of people to begin their own journeys of self discovery.


The 1980s were the heyday of wellness programs, fitness centers and spas. It was also a time of big business interest in corporate health care costs, which drove employers to promote employee wellness programs.

Wellness is an ancient concept that originated in the 19th century, largely from religious and spiritual health movements. These systems emphasized that a person’s physical health is rooted in his or her mental and emotional state.


During the 1990s, many employers began to understand the importance of employee wellbeing. They realized that a healthy workforce would improve their productivity, as well as reduce healthcare costs.

However, despite this increased focus on employees’ health and wellbeing, the wellness movement has yet to truly take hold in all sectors. While fitness programmes have been around for decades, it was only in the last decade that they became more prevalent.

The workplace wellness program has evolved, incorporating more holistic approaches to tackling stressors that can have long-term impact on employee wellbeing and productivity. Instead of merely providing an EAP hotline, employers are now offering tools and technology to help employees build resilience and achieve positive, healthy behaviour change.