The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) released its annual wellness trends report, illustrating the new directions in wellness that the organization believes will have the most meaningful impact on the industry and people worldwide.
If it's always daunting to predict trends in the fast-moving wellness space, it's especially so two years into a pandemic where the long-promised 'post-pandemic world' is becoming visible but is repeatedly delayed," said Susie Ellis, GWS Chair and CEO. "One thing that this forecast makes clear is that the future of wellness will be anything but a 'restart' of 2019. What consumers now need most, what they perceive as 'true wellness,' has profoundly changed.
Soil is our planet's most extraordinary ecosystem, with one handful containing 50 billion life forms. People lived deep in soil for 99% of human evolution as foragers and farmers. Now we're soil deprived, no longer bathing in all that bacterial and fungal richness. Mounting research indicates that soil and human microbiomes are anciently connected, and that soil exposure has an eye-opening impact on everything from the immune system to mental health.
Industrial agricultural methods quickly decimated the world's soil microbiome, creating a soil crisis. Regenerative agriculture—techniques that restore soil's biodiversity—has become a hot topic in farming and is poised to become a hot topic in wellness. "Regen," or "soil-certified," will become the next food certification because it's far more meaningful than "organic"—not only for its environmental impact, but because soil health is the true lens into food's nutritional value. More wellness brands will pivot to regen-farm-sourced ingredients. In wellness real estate, regen-agrihoods are a real trend to watch.
The world is waking up to the dire need to rewild the world's soil and the connection between soil and the human microbiome. A "dirty wellness" deliberately refutes wellness's "clean" obsession, embracing the delicate dance between the trillions of microorganisms in the soil and those in our gut.
Toxic Muscularity Comes Clean
A growing body of research reveals that body image is no longer solely a "women's issue." In April 2021, a UK male suicide prevention charity and Instagram survey found that half of the men aged 16-40 had struggled with their mental health because of how they feel about their bodies. "Toxic muscularity" can be poisonous and have a ripple effect on male body image. Anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse is hiding in plain sight in the improbable bulging biceps and rippling abs among many body builders. Steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) have moved from backstreet gyms to high-end health clubs and high schools.
Their impact is on those using the substances and the men and boys exposed to chemically enhanced muscular ideals. Toxic muscularity is contributing to the rise in male eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, the pathological preoccupation that you're not muscular enough, no matter how big and lean you may be.
From Wellness Tech to Technological Wellness
There seems to be no shortage of technology promising to make us well, between fitness wearables, telehealth apps, and smart home gyms. The truth is that most technology is harming our health, not helping it. Technological wellness doesn't just remedy the toxic toll that tech takes on our minds on bodies, but puts health at the center of how and how often we engage with technology.
A new kind of collaboration would be required between the technology industry and the wellness industry to accomplish this. The world's biggest tech companies are already in a race to build an uber-connected world where interactions happen through virtual-reality headsets and augmented-reality contacts. By pausing, asking questions, and developing technologies with health in mind, we can create a better kind of world where we treat tech intake more like our food intake, taking greater care to understand how it affects our mind, body, and overall well-being.
Senior Living Disrupted
According to leading aging experts, 90 will be the new 40 within a decade. Healthier, more youthful, and more active than their cohorts in previous generations, this incoming senior class doesn't "feel old" and doesn't want to be defined by age or socially segregated by it. Today's age-segregated models of senior living communities are no longer cutting it with a new generation that doesn't believe in the concept of being put out to pasture upon retirement.
To meet these changing expectations "senior living" will evolve to a focus on intentional intergenerationality going back to when people were less transient and more community based. Such old-school intersectionality still exists in the world's Blue Zones—places like Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy—which also happen to be among the places where people live the longest and age the healthiest. New intergenerational living environments will set the stage for reducing age segregation while increasing social connections, decreasing loneliness, and resulting in better health and well-being outcomes for all residents.
Wellness Travel: Seekers, Welcome
Intention is the future of travel in 2022. Social indicators such as the "great resignation," record retirements, and global nomadism reveal profound commitments to work/life balance, personal growth, and happiness. In fulfilling those goals, the travel industry is rolling out the welcome mat for these new intentional travelers with the invitation: Seekers, welcome.
New travel experiences tap into a sense of purpose, a desire to grow creatively and intellectually and flourish in new environments. Nature as a healer and a source of awe remains primary, whether at a rooftop yoga class or trekking the forthcoming Trans Bhutan Trail. Seekers will explore the ancients' wisdom in Indigenous travel experiences, learning to grow their own food, expressing their creativity in art classes, and giving back to academia in citizen science programs.
The pandemic underlined the need to attend to personal health, and taking a break—also known as a vacation—became a bigger part of the wellness picture. In 2022, it's clear that the thread of wellness is fully integrated into the travel world, and that nearly every trip is an opportunity for travelers to reclaim their lives, improve their health, and discover their purpose.
Tech Closing the Gender Gap in Medical Research
Too many women's health conditions are underfunded and under-researched, resulting in women with chronic illnesses having a harder time securing a correct diagnosis and finding effective treatments, thereby impacting their view of mainstream medicine.
Start-ups and technology giants are actively expanding and improving research data through AI, smartphone apps, wearables, and virtual trials. From data-gathering trackers to "smart bras," Silicon Valley is reimagining a host of existing technologies. These new advancements allow for better representation in trials, quicker access to participants, and more longitudinal data. Research institutions and academia are starting to show interest, partnering with innovative start-ups, proving there's more than one way to collect health information.
Urban Bathhouses & Wellness Playgrounds
Whether it's bathhouses featuring hydrothermal bathing (saunas, steam rooms, pools, etc.); large-scale wellness water resorts (some of which accommodate up to 8,000 visitors daily); or public parks where nature meets art and wellness, cities around the globe are suddenly making the pursuit of wellness accessible, affordable, and inclusive.
Communal bathing, hearkening back to European and Asian bathing cultures, is inspiring an urban bathhouse renaissance around the globe. Just a few examples: Austria's Therme Group, which already attracts around 3.4 million visitors a year to its sites in Europe, is now investing heavily in North America; Italian wellness company QC Terme will open its next urban bathhouse on New York's Governor's Island; and a Finnish-inspired Nordic bathing spa opened in early 2022 in Toronto.
Additionally, sauna bathing is becoming more popular and playful—it's less about being serious and silent and more about communal joy. Large event saunas have been opening outside of European sauna "hot spots," with cities like Las Vegas hosting high-octane "Sauna Aufguss" performances and London night spots offering private rooftop saunas adjacent to the rooftop bar.
New public playgrounds that merge nature and art with wellness are transforming cityscapes—with new artificial beachfronts, scenic boardwalks, pop-up wellness classes, and even water sports becoming available in very unexpected places like New York, Paris, London, Sydney, Madrid, Tokyo, and more.
For decades, the concept of progress has been about requiring humans to do as little as possible. We praise automation, reward the businesses who deliver convenience on demand, and admire nature from a safe distance—glorifying it without respecting it. But the looming threat of global upheaval is forcing us to change our ways. As we collectively reckon with the fragility of our planet and the instability of our supply chains, we'll see a long-overdue return to self-reliance.
This self-sufficiency boom is already evident in the global growth of outdoor survival schools, foraging, homegrown produce, and TikTok #ecohacks. And it's a trend that's very much in line with the larger shifts towards back-to-basics wellness. Just as wellness is returning to the fundamentals, Next-Gen Naturalism requires a Marie-Kondo-esque simplification of one's life and consumption, placing a refreshing focus on the natural world and ancient practices. It's a no-frills kind of wellness that forces us to rethink how we use our natural resources, how we source our food, and ultimately, how we prepare for a shaky future. Because in unpredictable times, preparedness equals peace of mind.
Health & Wellness Coaching Gets Certified
Coaches trained in the art and science of motivating healthy changes have been the missing link in both healthcare and wellness. The world spends $8.3 trillion a year on healthcare and $4.4 trillion on wellness, but we can't stem the tide of chronic disease. In the Wild West of "wellness coaching," the future is new distinctions, because what a certified health and wellness coach (HWC) does is utterly unique. They're healthcare professionals trained in evidence-based, nuanced conversational techniques that get people developing the intrinsic motivation and confidence to hit realistic well-being goals.
Their approach is radically different from the "prescriptive" model that rules both medicine and wellness. Doctors say exercise; wellness gurus say follow me on this path to weight loss or enlightenment. These coaches check advice-dispensing at the door because prescriptive models have failed spectacularly. Motivation must be sparked from within.
This trend shows how these coaches are poised to explode; how rigorous training and certification programs are now in place; how more insurance companies are covering coaching. Primary care start-ups (like Vera Whole Health) and public health initiatives (like the National Health Service's "Personalised Care" plan) are shaking up medicine with "care team" models, where the coach is as central as the doctor. An avalanche of digital health companies promise to revolutionize everything from chronic disease management to weight loss by automating "personalized health coaching"—and problems with all the coach-bots coding the human out of the process.
Wellness resorts, working on the "hi-and-bye" and "a week can change your life" models, have resisted HWCs. We see change: resorts like Mexico's Cartesiano are now incorporating them, and Six Senses and Canyon Ranch are opening urban wellness centers for more "everyday" coaching. More doctors argue these coaches need to be central to all primary care. They also need to become more central in wellness. Why are wellness devotees always chasing the next diet or influencer? Because behavior change comes from within. Certified HWCs will increasingly work with doctors, insurers, employers, physical therapists, fitness trainers, and people independently. Because they are the missing link.
Wellness Welcomes the Metaverse
The metaverse is happening, and thanks to a wide range of social forces, including the pandemic, the rise of the "Wellness Metaverse" is inevitable. With wellness front and center in consumers’ minds—and at the forefront of business and government strategies around the globe—the world is seeking new technologies that can far better engage and impact the health of many more people. From virtual reality and augmented reality to merged reality and haptics, the coming wellness metaverse will create vast opportunities for each sector of the $4.4 trillion global wellness economy.
To build a Wellness Metaverse, there will be unprecedented new synergies between the technology, wellness, and health industries. Wellness sectors are introducing new technologies and virtual worlds that deliver a far more immersive experience and radically transform how wellness is delivered to global consumers. The coming metaverse will move beyond gaming, and health and well-being will be at the center where the wellness industry can play a leadership role.
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