Top Wellness Trends for 2021

29 Jan 2021
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Read time: 9 min
Category: Wellbeing


We’ve never been so sleep-obsessed. We pony up for sleep-tracking, Oura rings, the latest, smartest mattresses, and meditative sleep headbands; crawl into nap pods; and travel far to bed down at sleep retreats. We gobble sleep tonics, CBD and even “sleep ice cream.” We’ve been hit by a storm of generic sleep products, driving a $432 billion “sleep economy,”* and we’re still not sleeping. Why? Because most sleep solutions, and our modern lives, defy the basic facts of circadian biology. Circadian medicine is moving fast. In a few years, it’s likely that a single blood, saliva or breath sample will be able to pinpoint our precise circadian clock-state, and apps could then inform us when to take in light and dark, sleep and rise, and eat and exercise. We expect some circadian market mayhem ahead (very bright and dim ideas). But the right timing of light and biology will move closer to the heart of wellness. Finally.


Baby boomers redefined aging, and now the market is finally catching up to them. Unlike previous generations, today’s 55+ are anything but boring; they’re active, vivacious, and far more engaged in exciting endeavors. Today’s retirees start businesses, run marathons, and travel widely. They own motorcycles and increasingly scoop up hip downtown condos. The World Health Organization predicts the 60+ population will nearly double by 2050 from 12 percent to 22 percent. Companies are wising up. Across the spectrum, from beauty to food, brands now cater to
this long-ignored group. They’re finally answering boomers’ call: Why shouldn’t they receive the same cool content and products as millennials? We’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Industry analysts predict that more conglomerates will invest resources in the senior market, adding new products and experiences that attest to the boomers’ vibrancy. They’re living longer and healthier, and the market can no longer afford to ignore them.


Japan is the longevity nation: It has more centenarians per capita than any country on Earth. It’s a result of Japan’s unique culture of wellness, which unites ancient healing traditions with ingenious people-focused tech/design and innovative social policy. In the last few years, various Japanese wellness approaches became global trends: “Ikigai,” the lifelong pursuit of finding your true purpose; the spiritual value of minimalism and auditing our possessions, forest bathing (Shinrin-Yoku), meditative movement through the forest; and Wabi-sabi, the philosophy of embracing imperfection and transience. But these trends have been consumed piecemeal, and Japan is distinctly humble about its rich wellness assets. We think that will change: “J-Wellness” will increasingly be embraced as a holistic culture of wellbeing—from its innovations for our ageing world to the breakthroughs in J-Beauty to a reverence for nature and meditative ritual as preventative healthcare.


Awareness of the need to address mental health has grown significantly in the last few years. A broad category, this includes mental illness and neurological disorders but also new categories spanning anxiety, stress and despair. Issues such as climate change-induced anxiety and work-induced stress are commonplace. Last year, the World Health Organization declared “burnout” an official medical diagnosis. As such, both the public and private sectors increasingly look to advance solutions at scale. Silicon Valley, for example, released an impressive array of digital solutions to ensure more individuals receive discreet and flexible care. Nearly 10,000 mental health apps currently crowd the market, ranging from behavioral health coaching to meditation content. Mental Health Tech will be going mainstream- Affordable virtual therapy apps such as TalkSpace give patients the ability to call, text and video teleconference with professional counselors on their schedule, whereas chatbots serve as a listening friend on-demand.


In medicine, electrifying new insights will keep coming around bioelectricity, the “organized lightning” that our cells use to grow and communicate. Michael Levin at Harvard’s Wyss Institute is just one top scientist uncovering the bioelectric “language” that cells use to coordinate everything from their own regeneration to cancer suppression. Biophotons are the light particles radiating from our cells that help regulate our biological systems—and the emerging field of Biophotonics will use coherent light (lasers, lighted crystals) to positively impact tissues and organs. New “optogenetic” tools are exciting neurons using light, allowing them to map the brain’s connections and activate brain circuits.


If going to church once meant dolling up in a dress to sit in a pew, today it might look more like wearing leggings for a HIIT-infused sermon. More and more, faith is incorporating the latest wellness trends, signifying a shift away from viewing bodywork as vanity.  With interest in health and fitness at an all-time high, organized religion is reimagining age-old rituals and formats. For some churches, synagogues and mosques, this adoption simply reflects a desire to feel better and to take preventative health measures. Congregations no longer want to separate their physical and spiritual needs but instead, hope to fuse them together in novel new ways. This ranges from aerobic fitness classes to meditative retreats, all reworked with religious liturgy and biblical references. There are now boutique fitness studios solely devoted to worship or which cater to religious constraints. We see Ramadan bootcamps, Jewish Sabbath service hikes, Christian wellness retreats, Catholic Pilates classes and Muslim fitness YouTube channels.


The current vacation model: work like mad and take a week of vacation where you’re supposed to totally switch off. A great model, but one that doesn’t work for many people anymore. As work has become “always-on,” more people aren’t taking their vacation days, and vastly more people are remote/independent workers with no formal vacation time. The reality: More people desperately need a profound wellness break, but they need to keep working. Shaming them for not taking vacations—or not totally unplugging when they do—feels naive. Enter a new travel concept: the wellness sabbatical, where days of work and wellness are intentionally blended, at destinations that actively, creatively make this possible. On a wellness sabbatical, you’re set up to work a few productive hours a day (great workspaces, technology), but you also schedule a lot of daily wellness experiences (healthy food, movement, time in nature, sleep, human connection, etc.). And repeat, hopefully for a minimum of three weeks, that sweet spot to jumpstart lasting lifestyle changes and for a true mental reset. Work + Wellness is the future.


Fertility is no longer a taboo topic hushed about in doctor’s offices. The last few years saw incredible progress in this space on multiple fronts. These advancements couldn’t come sooner: Fertility has reached a crisis point across the globe. Highly industrialized countries such as England, Japan and the US continue to see record-low fertility rates, which will ultimately impact the future of the workforce. The landscape is filled with apps, period trackers, platforms, and wearables that not only increase one’s chances of conceiving but even attempt to make it, well, enjoyable. So far, women’s health start-ups are believed to have secured over $1 billion in investment, and of that, 60 percent is focused on fertility or pregnancy. It’s just the start of what many see as a femtech revolution.


We all self-medicate through music, but most people don’t grasp just how powerful the medical evidence for music therapy is: Humans are hardwired for music; no other stimulus positively activates so many brain regions; and stringent studies show its dramatic impact on mood, anxiety and pain. If formal “music therapy” has always seemed a tad dowdy, now, suddenly, something big is happening. Music as an intentional therapy is being radically reinvented by new technologies. Music is emerging as one of the hottest trends in wellness, and wellness concepts are shaking up the massive music industry. Meditation apps are morphing into wellness music apps. New player Wave foregos the old whispery, guided meditations for an all-wellness-music platform that, combined with its pulse-vibrating bolster, delivers multi-frequency meditation.


Wellness is by nature a consumer industry: It evolved to supplement what traditional medicine hasn’t tackled well, whether prevention, lifestyle change or mental wellness. But because it’s a hyper-consumer, largely unregulated, $4.5 trillion market, there’s been a storm of baseless claims about pseudo-scientific products and Instagram and celeb “wellness influencers” for hire. It’s one thing when a wellness approach has little benefit but does no harm—but when a “flat tummy tea” loaded with laxatives does real harm, the situation is serious. We’ll see more online call-out platforms, such as Instagram collective Estée Laundry, which goes after the false claims of influencers and brands in the beauty industry. (Online platforms that take on the wider wellness space are likely ahead.) We’ll see more vetting and certification sites such as UK-based WellSpoken, whose content tries to counter wellness pseudoscience and certifies brands. WellSet is trying to take on questionable wellness practices with a marketplace where people can find reputable local specialists.



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