From a new convergence between healthcare and wellness to a much bigger focus on nature, immunity and “home wellness” to wellness expanding its boundaries to once-taboo issues like sex, money and death

A panel at the recent Global Wellness Summit (Nov. 8-11) brought together top journalists and future-forecasters (all experts in wellness) to discuss how the pandemic is shaking up the “wellness concept”–and what they predict will be the big wellness trends for 2021. It was a wide-ranging, provocative discussion (organized by Beth McGroarty, GWS, VP, research) with some of the hot topics summarized here.

The panel:

Sandra Ballentine, Editor, W magazine
Cecelia Girr, Senior Strategist at Backslash, the cultural intelligence unit powered by TBWA\ Worldwide
Elaine Glusac, Travel Columnist, The New York Times
Claire McCormack, Content + Thought Leadership, Indie Beauty Media Group/Beauty Independent
Sarah Miller, Luxury Brand Ambassador, Wall Street Journal
Jessica Smith, freelance wellness and beauty trends consultant; LS:N Global

6 Wellness Trends for 2021

1) A new convergence between healthcare and wellness

The panel discussed how COVID-19 has shined a pitiless spotlight on the importance of preventative lifestyle approaches, and how our future survival will depend on a new alignment between wellness and healthcare. As Ballentine noted, the pandemic has provided painful, incontrovertible evidence that “we need to shift our healthcare system away from profiting from sickness and gear it towards preventing it” – forecasting that we will see a combination of functional and conventional medicine across community and economic lines, with telemedicine (and tele-wellness) playing a much bigger role.

Girr predicted that while healthcare has been quite sterile, and “wellness has become the cool kid on the block,” that the future is an unprecedented convergence, where innovative, new models that bring health and wellness together symbiotically “becoming the global cultural north star.” She argued that new integrations will give healthcare the pleasurable, aspirational qualities of wellness while wellness will increasingly get the science-backed credibility of the medical industry–and the players and brands that execute on this (and it’s already happening) will “win big.”

2) Strengthening the immune system

Ballentine predicted that strengthening the immune system (and building physical fortitude) will be a major 2021 wellness trend across the board, from food, to supplements, to educational classes. “We will see more customized immunity hacks, using genetic testing and biohacking…to pinpoint what immune therapies best suit your system and situation.” When people feel comfortable with bodywork again, she argued there will be more immunity-enhancing treatments and energy healing–and that there will be a much bigger focus on gut health and our microbiome as it pertains to immunity and brain function.

3) A great “un-tabooing”: wellness gets real about sex, money and death

The panel discussed how we’re moving from a wellness industry narrowly focused on “looking and feeling good” to, as Girr put it, “a massive and seismic cultural taboo toppling,” with wellness radically expanding its boundaries to riskier “cultural pain-points…and the really big stuff,” such as sex, money and death–issues that “have a much larger impact on our health than the day to day vanities of wellness.” So we will see everything from the rise of new, healthier end-of-life practices such as death doulas to getting real about money with new financial therapy/wellness approaches.

McCormack agreed, and discussed the many ways that women’s sexual wellness and reproductive health will burst out of the closet in 2021: with so many women feeling left behind by the medical system and “suffering in silence.” She noted that sexual wellness brands have seen a massive spike in sales (300-400%) during lockdown. And beyond sexual pleasure, she predicted that femtech investment and alternative ways of solving for women’s health needs would surge in 202: whether pelvic floor trainers, supplements, pre-menopause through post-menopause solutions, or women saying goodbye to the pill and seeking alternative forms of birth control. The panel agreed: a new, taboo-smashing wellness will take center stage and, as Girr put it, will be “one of the biggest opportunities globally.”

4) Nature, nature, nature

The experts all agreed that in an era of lockdown and social distancing (and with new awareness that the destruction of the environment spurred COVID-19) that there is a profound new value being placed on nature and wilderness as healing.

Glusac explained how this is the dominant trend in wellness travel: “Sadly, in travel, we’ve temporarily lost connection to other people (one of travel’s wonders), and that people connection is being replaced with nature connection, which provides unique healing and solace in a pandemic.” She noted that slow, human-powered travel (cycling, hiking, walking, paddling trips) is growing fast, not only because they’re wellness experiences, but because they’re also naturally socially-distanced activities. She also argued that there is a pronounced uptick in interest in sustainable travel–and in the newer concept that takes it all further, regenerative travel, which is not just reducing your carbon footprint, but actually leaving the place better than you found it.

Miller explained that more people have now permanently woken up to the fact that the way that “we as a human species interact with other species (and encroach on their natural habitat) has caused our own sickness.” And with this unprecedented awareness of how sustainability links to human wellness, she predicts everything from an even more powerful surge in vegan and plant-based eating to so many more carbon recycling, tree-planting and coral-reef-saving initiatives.

5) Home wellness

The group concurred that a trend dramatically amplified by COVID-19 is bringing all kinds of wellness into our homes, from the simplest moves to the highest-tech. McCormack noted: “We’re spending so much more time in our homes, so companies are looking to help us optimize that space…specifically as a wellness refuge” – noting that she’s getting so many “home wellness” pitches, such as those from cool, new air purifier and humidifier start-ups. Miller noted that the “home wellness” focus can be very simple, such as finding ways to nurture ourselves in very tiny apartments, with air quality key: saying goodbye to the sealed, air-conditioned home and with opening windows, eating outside, and feeling the bracing air being “very basic pleasures and behaviors transforming…what is wellness.”

Smith argued that wellness architecture will both surge and evolve, with important work being done on how the built environment and our communities impact our long-term health, citing the pioneering research of Centric Lab, a neuroscience lab that examines the full biological response we have to a particular environment. They are finding that communities experiencing high levels of environmental and psychosocial stress suffer biological inequality, and it’s this kind of research that could provide a roadmap for housing developers to reimagine homes, workplaces and streets. Smith also predicted that we’ll see an extraordinary burst of tech innovation around hygienic, pathogen-fighting homes, to create “pandemic-proof properties” that use technology such as the Carlo Ratti wardrobe purifier which removes micro-organisms, bacteria, and viruses from clothes.

6) Beauty: from anti-microbial products to at-home beauty

Smith argued that while natural/clean beauty has been the uber-trend these last few years, now products that can reduce fears around hygiene will grow, with innovative new antimicrobial and antibacterial beauty formulations (and safe, touch-free application processes and packaging) that not only make beauty safe but whose ingredients also improve skin cells and tackle blemishes.

Ballentine argued that the at-home, self-care beauty trend will reach new heights in 2021, with people mad for all sorts of beauty technologies and treatments that they can execute at home.

And she noted that the trend, of course, extends to all kinds of at-home wellness. “These experiences can’t replace a human being or touch, but I think all kinds of wellness and beauty coaching delivered into the home will become increasingly important. Spa professionals, nutritionists and personal trainers all have a real opportunity to enhance the at-home experience for customers, with virtual classes and digital content to maintain engagement.”

Experience the Summit On Demand: This discussion was but one of 73 keynotes and panels at the 2020 conference, where dozens of experts discussed the future of wellness. You can now experience all three days of content with the virtual access package, which also gives exclusive access to the Global Wellness Institute’s new research report, “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy.”  Learn more.

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