26 Feb 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2014 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Wellness trends

Health & wellbeing

Wellness trends

Camilla Parke of The Futures Company outlines some of the trends that will influence the health and wellness sector in the coming year

Camilla Parke, The Futures Company
The practice of grounding is said to help you feel better and experience less chronic illness www.shutterstock.com / joyce vincent
Is monk fruit the Holy Grail of sweeteners, actually offering health benefits? www.shutterstock.com / dolphfyn
More people are turning to technology to help them keep fit outside the gym www.shutterstock.com / click images
Businesses and health workers are turning to laughter therapy for its wellness benefits www.shutterstock.com / sergey furtaev
Google’s new venture will focus on researching ageing and longevity www.shutterstock.com / diego cervo

The rise of boutique medicine
In 2014, more and more patients in the US will meet their healthcare needs through a model know as concierge or ‘boutique’ medicine. Eager to escape the stresses of dealing with insurance companies, a growing number of people are turning to concierge practices that offer patients the opportunity to pay an annual fee or retainer directly to their doctor, rather than relying on insurers.

There are now over 4,400 concierge doctors in the US, with over 1,000 practices opening in 2013. Over the last five years, the number has increased 500 per cent and the trend promises to accelerate thanks to a looming doctor shortage, an ageing population, and the advent of Obamacare, in which 30 million previously uninsured Americans will enter the healthcare system.

The trend is becoming more attractive from a practitioner and patient perspective: primary care doctors are becoming less satisfied with overcrowded practices and ongoing wrangles with insurance firms, leaving little time and energy to devote to considered patient care. For patients, the ongoing reduction in cost of these services is making them much more accessible.

Good grounding
The practice of ‘Earthing’ or ‘Grounding’ – direct physical contact of the human body with the surface of the earth – has been around for a while, but is experiencing a renaissance as a growing body of research shows it may have significant health benefits.

The key premise of the practice is that regularly connecting with the Earth – whether walking, running or even sleeping in direct contact – transmits a gentle flow of energy in the form of free electrons, allowing you to sleep better, feel better and, according to its proponents, experience less chronic illness. Grounding is gaining more attention from those in the medical industry, as well as those in other health-related industries, as a key component to overall wellness and healthy living.

In their recent book, Earthing, authors Clinton Ober, Martin Zucker and Dr Stephen T Sinatra outline a number of controlled clinical studies that indicate different health benefits associated with the practice. Thermography images of patients with a variety of ailments and injuries show – after just half an hour of grounding – reductions in inflammation where other medications and therapies have had little impact. Another controlled study showed that subjects who slept grounded with conductive mattress pads showed lower night-time cortisol levels and had higher sleep quality.

Many health and wellness facilities are beginning to incorporate Earthing principles into the health solutions they offer. From barefoot hikes on sand or soil to treatments such as grounding massages, spas worldwide are using the Earth's energy to add another dimension to their treatments.

Sweetness and light
As the battle against diabetes and obesity continues, the search for ‘better for you’ ingredients is intensifying. One of the most active areas of ingredient innovation is sweeteners – and this is no surprise, given that a study recently published by the American Heart Association estimates that, around the world each year, 180,000 deaths are linked to consumption of sugary beverages alone.

‘Healthy’ choices are not easy to make here. Sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin continue to be scrutinised for their potential negative health impact, and so-called healthy natural sweeteners – such as agave, high in fructose, which has been shown to disrupt liver function and also promote obesity – are falling out of favour.

The hunt is on to find the Holy Grail of sweeteners, and next year we are likely to see much more of one ingredient championed as just that: monk fruit extract.

A small, sweet melon native to China and south-east Asia, monk fruit has been consumed for centuries as a popular tea and cooling beverage. Unlike most fruits, monk fruit isn’t sweet due to natural sugars. Instead, it contains a unique type of antioxidant called mogroside that provides a level of sweetness upwards of 200 to 500 times greater than table sugar.

This extract could also potentially do more than simply sweeten: researchers are currently looking into using high doses of mogrosides in the treatment of cancer and diabetes, with one particular study showing that mogrosides were effective in improving fasting blood sugar levels in addition to increasing ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Back to basics
In the fitness arena, we expect to see continued interest in calisthenics in 2014 – exercises leveraging bodyweight rather than equipment, and focusing on engaging the whole body rather than isolated muscle groups.

These low-cost, low-tech training principles are experiencing a resurgence as an almost ‘anytime, anywhere’ form of strength and cardio training. The exercise philosophy will continue to gain popularity – thanks in part to books like Raising the Bar by Al Kavaldo, a progressive calisthenics expert and evangelist who explains the multiple benefits, from greater strength, balance and flexibility to improved cardiovascular health and body control.

The exercise form will also gain status as a form of performance art. “Most people think of calisthenics as regular push-ups, pull-ups or chair dips,” says Anthony Cephas, recent winner of Battle of the Bars at the Santa Clara Fit Expo in Northern California, US. “Now it’s performance, which is taking it to another level.” 2014 is likely to bring more competitions like this, with participants showcasing their balance, strength and body control.

Time to get laughing
Laughter has been recognised as ‘the best medicine’ for many years, but moving into 2014, we’re likely to see even more examples of laughter as a recognised form of wellness therapy and a burgeoning business.

Schools, businesses, behavioural experts, health workers and even spiritual leaders are increasingly turning to laughter therapy to deliver health and wellness benefits – particularly in the UK. The Laughter Network – made up of trained laughter yoga teachers, social workers and mental health professionals – has seen its membership triple since its launch nine years ago. It runs ‘laughter gym’ sessions and workshops in Brighton and London, catering to a wide range of clients including more and more corporates who are eager to see the benefits in their employees.

The growing body of evidence that demonstrates these benefits is likely to further drive the popularity of the concept. Research by the University of Arizona, US, has suggested that laughter yoga – a traditional Indian practice that combines breathing techniques and laughter – could improve mood and stabilise heart rates in patients awaiting organ transplants.

Another study by Oxford University found that a deep belly laugh shared with others can increase an individual’s pain threshold by releasing protective endorphins. It’s time to get chuckling!

Google turns back the clock
Expect to see more multi-nationals from unexpected industries taking the plunge into the world of health in 2014.

For example, Google has announced an ambitious venture targeted at unlocking fundamental questions around ageing and longevity that will begin in 2014 – its second move into public health, with high hopes that it will be more successful than the ill-fated personal health record called Google Health, dissolved in 2012 for failing to resonate with consumers.

The bio-tech venture, called Calico, will be headed by former Genentech CEO Art Levinson, and in the coming years will operate as more of a research institute than a pharmaceutical company. Calico will provide funding for research aimed at identifying and understanding the biological mechanisms behind the ageing process. The company may also hire its own team of researchers to work on solutions to prevent the development of certain diseases.

Larry Page, Google CEO, appears to have significant ambitions around the role that Google could play in improving social health outcomes on a grand scale. He points to ageing as an area more significant for research than say, cancer, though he recognises that it could be decades before any real breakthroughs are made.

In the year ahead – although perhaps not on this scale – we can expect to see more companies and brands bridging the gaps between consumers/patients and healthcare professionals, and more emphasis on the role ‘Big Data’ could play in unlocking some of society’s biggest health issues.

No gym required
The idea of sweating in front of strangers – or even more terrifying, colleagues – could become less of a trauma in 2014, as more people turn to technology to keep them fit outside of the gym.

The number of websites and apps offering planned workouts in everything from yoga to body combat is rising. In the UK, a growing number of consumers are signing up to so-called ‘transatlantic workouts’ that are filmed in Los Angeles or New York and accessed online for a monthly fee; US websites like yogisanonymous.com and emglivefitness.com are ones to watch.

In the UK, instructorlive.com offers 40 different classes via archive, or live, where participants can ask the instructor questions throughout the class. According to the site’s founder Luke Walker, only 12 per cent of its 5,000 users are men, but the majority of these log in for yoga classes: “There has been a stigma that yoga is a feminine activity, but now that’s changing and a lot of guys want to get a bit of confidence before they step into a class. They use us as a stepping-stone.”

Social apps for exercise
While fitness trackers might have been all the rage in 2013, 2014 is likely to see people slowly falling out of love with their Fuelbands and Fitbits. A recent survey showed that, of those who already owned a smartwatch or fitness band, more than 40 per cent had stopped using it because they often forgot to put it on or had become bored with the idea.

Fitness trackers might work well for people who see data as its own reward, but it seems as though using a fitness tracker in isolation isn’t good enough motivation for everyone. What a lot of people need is the return of a human element to their solitary workouts or jogs, and this is a space which the social fitness app can occupy.

One example of this kind of app is fitocracy (https://www.fitocracy.com/about-us/) which, by connecting to social media, turns exercise into a fun, competitive game with friends. The app has over 1 million users who, on average, are in the app for more than five hours a month, making them more engaged than users of any other social network except Facebook.

These kinds of apps both compete with and complement fitness tracking tools, and it’s likely that they will boom as people continue to search for motivation to exercise.

New superfood on the block
The moringa plant is the newest (and arguably most multi-tasking) superfood to emerge, and looks set to take off in 2014. The leaves of this plant, which is native to South Asia, have astounding nutritious qualities: gram per gram, moringa contains twice the protein of yoghurt, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, four times the calcium of milk and seven times the vitamin C of oranges. This might explain why ancient warriors used the leaf extract to get them ready for battle, and why the Egyptian pharaohs were buried with it to sustain them in the afterlife.

Apart from its superior nutritional benefits, what sets moringa apart from other superfoods such as spirulina and wheatgrass is the fact that it can also be applied directly to the skin in the form of powder or oil. It acts as an antibacterial, treating a range of conditions such as abscesses, dandruff and athlete’s foot. It may also fight the signs of ageing, as it contains a chemical substance called zeatin that promotes new cell growth, reducing wrinkling and promoting a brighter complexion.

A number of new health products containing moringa are to be launched shortly, including Kuli Kuli bar, a health bar with moringa sourced from women’s farming co-operatives in West Africa.

Check into the wellness hotel
The concept of the ‘wellness hotel’ will come into its own in 2014, with several major chains launching new concepts designed to cater for guests’ broad spectrum of health and wellbeing needs.

The International Hotels Group will launch its wellness brand, EVEN, in 2014 in New York, with plans to introduce another 100 new hotels over the coming five years. The concept is based on a number of pillars of healthy living: diet and nutrition, exercise, rest and recuperation, and productivity.

A growing number of hotel chains are trying to mirror the experiences offered by more boutique brands or high-end spas by delivering personalised wellness experiences for their guests. For some, this will mean expanding existing facilities, or making it easier for guests to continue their fitness regimes during their stay: The Westin Hotels & Resorts recently launched a Gear Lending Program, offering New Balance footwear and clothes on loan for guests wanting to keep fit. Expect to see more initiatives like this in 2014, and more brands embracing the health and wellness concept holistically, from hotel design to fixtures and facilities.

For further information
The Futures Company is an award-winning, strategic insight and innovation consultancy with global expertise in foresight and futures. Its teams in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia unlock new sources of growth for its clients through consultancy, global insight and a range of subscription solutions.
www.thefuturescompany.com Twitter: @FuturesCo

Originally published in Health Club Management 2014 issue 2

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