Holistic Health: Definition, Benefits, Tips

Holistic Health: Definition, Benefits, Tips


Holistic health, sometimes called integrative medicine or whole person health, is a medical approach that focuses on treating and preventing disease by addressing many aspects of a person’s life, including mental, physical, spiritual, and social health.

Conventional medicine often focuses primarily on the physical symptoms of disease. Holistic health also focuses on how other aspects of a person’s life, including environment, spirituality, and culture, contribute to their health.

Features of holistic health include education, self-help, advocacy, and lifestyle and behavioral changes that promote better health, such as nutrition, movement, sleep and stress management, and relationship support.

Holistic health views the body as a whole system. It views all aspects of a person—including their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health—as contributing to their overall health and well-being.

This health approach promotes the idea that healing requires balancing your life’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects. It focuses on disease prevention by addressing the whole person continuously rather than only when medical symptoms or conditions arise.

Holistic health is often viewed as an alternative to conventional medicine and is sometimes grouped with natural medicine. However, holistic health practitioners often partner with more traditional medicine providers to optimize health outcomes. This is why it’s called integrative medicine.

Medical and wellness care often includes traditional medicine, including drugs and surgery. It also includes addressing mental and emotional health through self-care, education, and lifestyle modifications that promote better health.

Person-Centered Care

Holistic health is person-centered. It empowers people to actively participate in their health and well-being and builds resilience—the ability to adapt to challenging experiences.

A holistic approach focuses on collaborative communication and goal setting. Healthcare providers and their patients or clients share responsibility. They partner and create a care plan together based on each person’s needs, desires, and current situations.

Many different types of medicine fall under the holistic medicine umbrella and may be used as part of a holistic medicine approach. Here are some of the more well-known, evidence-based types of holistic medicine and examples of each:

  • Mind-body therapies: Meditation, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, guided imagery, tai chi; art, music, dance/movement, and expressive/creative therapy
  • Biologically-based practices: Vitamin or dietary supplements, herbal supplements, dietary changes
  • Manipulative or body-based therapies: Massage therapy, reflexology, chiropractic therapy
  • Energy healing: Reiki, therapeutic touch, reflexology, sound healing, chakra healing
  • Holistic medical systems: Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), naturopathic medicine, acupuncture

Holistic medicine includes complementary medicine and alternative medicine. Complementary medicine is typically used with more conventional medicine, while alternative medicine might replace more conventional medicine.

Integrative medicine is often more of a collaboration between multiple healthcare providers who use different approaches.

There’s evidence that a holistic approach to medicine can profoundly affect health and well-being. For example, stress can increase your risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, depression, and heart disease. Holistic health support includes stress management that can reduce symptoms, lower disease risk, and improve overall quality of life.

Empowers and Promotes Self-Care

One concept analysis and review of holistic health found that holistic care consistently helps people advocate for their care and assume responsibility for their health. This helps them manage their health and illness more effectively and improves their well-being.

Holistic health also inspires greater self-care, which can increase self-esteem, self-regulation, personal growth, optimism, and dignity.

May Reduce Mortality

Holistic care might improve health outcomes for people with serious conditions.

One study of stroke patients in South Korea compared those who received more conventional medical care to those who received a more holistic care approach. People who received more holistic care had higher medical costs and stayed longer on average in the hospital. However, they had reduced all-risk mortality rates at three months and also 12 months after they were discharged from the hospital.

May Reduce Medical Costs

Holistic medicine may be more expensive in some instances. It often involves more than one type of care and more time with providers. In addition, some holistic providers don’t accept insurance.

However, holistic medicine may reduce medical costs overall. For example, one study found that people with pain who received holistic care experienced reduced pain and a 4% reduction in hospital costs, totaling an average cost savings of $898 for every hospital admission.

Helps People Cope with Illness

Living with a serious medical condition can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Some studies show that people treated holistically can better cope with their conditions.

For instance, one study found that cancer patients receiving holistic medical care were less likely to be distressed by their condition and more likely to be involved in their own care.

May Increase Patient Satisfaction

People treated by holistic providers often experience increased satisfaction with their care. One smaller study looked at the effects of holistic medicine on patient satisfaction. The patients surveyed reported increased satisfaction with their care and improved mental and emotional health. They also reported fewer symptoms.

Holistic health often means visiting a healthcare provider who takes a holistic approach to medicine. It also involves lifestyle modifications and activities that support all aspects of your well-being. Holistic health empowers you to take charge of your health.

How do you add holistic health principles into your life? Here are some ideas:

  • Physical health: Engage in regular physical activity and healthy, joyful movement. Eat a wholesome, nutrient-dense diet. Consider dietary and vitamin supplements recommended by a credentialed healthcare provider. Prioritize sleep.
  • Mental health: Practice gratitude or mindfulness meditation—even a few minutes daily can help. Consider meeting with a licensed therapist or counselor to address any mental health concerns you may be experiencing.
  • Emotional health: Learn to manage your emotional health through strategies like meditation, journaling, dance/art therapy, deep breathing exercises, and therapy or counseling.
  • Social health: Engage socially with others often, and consider social opportunities that also improve health and well-being, such as a yoga or tai chi class, dance lessons, or a hiking group. Practice conscious communication—communicating intentionally by staying present and using thoughtful language.
  • Spiritual health: Find a spiritual outlet that aligns with your beliefs. This may include anything from practicing transcendental meditation, attending church or temple services, volunteering in your community, or spending more time in nature.

Many of these ideas fall into multiple categories. For example, prioritizing sleep can positively affect all aspects of health. The key is recognizing that caring for your health includes a variety of strategies that create sustainable (long-term) self-support.

Many different providers consider themselves holistic health practitioners. Even more traditional medical doctors (MDs) often take a more holistic, preventative approach. Whatever provider you choose, you want to find someone credentialed and highly trained.

Questions to ask a potential provider include:

  • What is your background, education, and certifications?
  • How do you diagnose conditions?
  • What conditions do you treat, and how?
  • What research do you base your recommendations on?
  • Will you collaborate with your other healthcare providers?
  • How often will I see you or communicate with you?

Reading reviews of holistic health practitioners you are considering can be helpful. A recommendation from your healthcare provider or close family and friends is invaluable.

Some professionals who may lean closer to the holistic health side of things include:

  • Medical Doctors (MD)—e.g., integrative physicians
  • Doctors Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • Functional Medicine Doctors (MD or DO with functional medicine training)
  • Functional Medicine Practitioners (FMD)
  • Doctors of Chiropractic Medicine (DC)
  • Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine (ND)
  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners
  • Homeopathic doctors
  • Ayurvedic practitioners
  • Licensed therapists (e.g., music, dance, art, and creative therapists)
  • Acupuncturists
  • Massage therapists
  • Meditation teachers
  • Yoga instructors
  • Tai Chi instructors

If you have a serious medical condition, consult a doctor before seeking care from a holistic practitioner. While holistic care certainly has its place in a more traditional medicine model, people with serious conditions must ensure complementary approaches align with their medical needs.

There are many highly trained holistic providers. However, you might meet with someone who suggests an herbal remedy or supplement that should not be used to treat your condition or that interacts with a medication you take. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s always safe, especially if you have an underlying medical condition.

Always consult a medical provider before starting any new herbal supplement or dietary regimen.

Holistic Health in Healthcare

Whole person health is becoming more common in healthcare. Organizations that have holistic health programs include:

  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • U.S. Department of Defense Total Force Fitness Program
  • Whole Health Institute
  • North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
  • Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease

Holistic health means considering all aspects of a person, including physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. This approach to health is often empowering. It can help prevent and treat various conditions and increase overall satisfaction and well-being.

Many healthcare providers use a holistic approach, often combined with more conventional medical approaches for optimal results. Holistic healthcare can be incredibly valuable. Still, it’s important to follow your medical doctor’s advice if you have a specific condition.

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