Health and Wellness

From 'internal clock' diets to VR therapy sessions, 5 wellness fads to watch

@KaiMitt | Twenty20

In 2019, the "wellness" world was dominated by CBD (cannabidiol), meditation and intermittent fasting. At a time when the global wellness industry is worth $4 trillion, according to CB Insights, what comes next?

Experts from the Global Wellness Summit (GWS), an international organization made up of spa and wellness industry leaders, made their predictions for the biggest health trends of 2020. Their forecasts are based on interviews, keynotes and debates from 550 executives, doctors, academics and finance professionals in the wellness market. Here are five of the fads they say will be big this year.

Syncing all kinds of habits with your internal clock

Whether you're a morning bird like Tim Cook, or prefer to take naps like Bill Gates, sleep and routine can drastically impact your productivity and health. But according to the GWS report, "circadian health optimization," or adjusting your schedule, diet and environment to sync with your body's internal clock will replace the current obsession with sleep tracking.

Research suggests that circadian rhythms influence several bodily functions from your hormones to your body temperature, and they also determine your sleep patterns. Soon you might shift your work schedule in accordance with your "chronotype," or your preference for morning or night, in order to optimize your performance and be more productive throughout the day. Or you may time your meals so that you're only eating during the daytime and fasting when it's dark. (There's some evidence that eating within an eight-to-10-hour window can improve your metabolic health, including your blood pressure and glucose control.)

As for products, "wellness homes" are already a trend, and they're often outfitted with smart light bulbs that adjust lighting to boost your energy when you're awake and calm you for sleep at night. Jet lag apps like Timeshifter create a customized schedule (complete with advice like "see bright light" and "avoid caffeine") to get your rhythm on track. And given the connection between circadian rhythm and body temperature, wearable devices like the $299 Embr Wave cool or heat your body temperature to help you fall asleep faster and wake up refreshed.

Mental health tech and wearables

About 42.6% of the 46.6 million adults living with any mental illness in the U.S. received mental health treatment in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And half of millennials and 75% of Gen-Zers have left a job, both voluntarily and involuntarily, partially due to mental health reasons, according to a recent study.

Many people who have demanding schedules struggle to find time for therapy appointments, but digital solutions help, according to the GWS report. Beyond just therapy apps or teletherapy platforms, the GWS expects virtual reality therapy, meditation headsets that measure your heart and breathing rate and wearable biosensors that look out for physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety, will fill that gap.

Work-from-anywhere wellness sabbaticals

While the idea of a sabbatical may not be new, the GWS report highlights the need for a wellness-focused retreats to ward off workplace burnout and find "the ideal personal balance of work and wellness pursuits."

The idea behind wellness sabbaticals is to keep working remotely, but take time away from your usual work environment to focus on a project and devote time to your well-being. Some travel companies have started to offer unstructured wellness getaway packages that cater to working professionals, or are specifically designed to address burnout, according to the report.

For example, the Kamalaya resort in Koh Samui, Thailand, offers a 21-day "Well-being Sabbatical" that's described as "an immersive wellness experience that simultaneously accommodates your need to stay on top of business." The startup Amble, on the other hand, gives creative professionals the opportunity to take a crowd-funded, sabbatical to visit and work for the National Parks Service for a month.

'J-wellness'

With more than half of the babies born in Japan likely to live to 100, Japan is finding ways to ensure that their long lives are fulfilling, including increasing community and work-life balance. According to the GWS report, the rest of the world is taking notice. The result? J-wellness, or Japanese-inspired wellness.

For instance, people in Japan work so much there's actually word for "death by overwork," called "karoshi." To combat this, in 2015, the Japanese government implemented a "Stress Check Program" for workplaces with more than 50 employees, as a way to prevent burnout and improve workers' mental health. The GWS report suggests that more countries will adopt these types of assessments.

J-wellness also includes things like forest bathing, or "shirin-yoku," a practice that involves connecting all five senses to nature, according to the report. Studies suggest that forest bathing can have a beneficial effect on people's mental and physical health, reducing blood pressure, stress hormones, as well as anxiety and depression levels. In Japan, there are 62 therapeutic forests for people to explore, but regardless of where you live research has found that walking in nature can boost your creativity and increase your cognitive functioning.

Fertility as healthcare

Infertility is common, with about 12 out of 100 couples in the U.S. struggling to become pregnant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Given the increased awareness around infertility, more companies are offering fertility treatments — including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg-freezing and other reproductive assistance technologies — as benefits for both men and women employees looking to start a family.

However fertility benefits don't cover everything, and the average cost of a single round of IVF is over $20,000 (and most people require multiple rounds) according to FertilityIQ. So the GWS report predicts that fertility clinics, as well as fertility wearable trackers such as Ava and apps that help people learn about and keep track of important metrics that affect fertility, including ovulation and fertile days, will further democratize and simplify access to care.

Investors are also taking note of femtech start-ups: The fertility start-up KindBody, for example, received $10 million in funding from GV in December, bringing their total funding to $32 million. "Silicon Valley seems more keen to bankroll such initiatives," according to the report. As a sector, femtech could reach a market size of $50 billion by 2025, according to a 2018 study from Frost & Sullivan.

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