From Sleep to True Circadian Health
Any solution claiming to reset circadian rhythms must have the timing of light at its center. We’ve never been so obsessed: We buy the latest gadgets to track our sleep quality; use the smartest mattress; ingest sleep tonics, CBD (and yes, Ambien and Xanax); we pay for nap pods and travel far for sleep retreats. The ‘sleep economy’ is set to reach $585 billion by 2024.
Humans evolved to be highly sensitive to the 24-hour solar cycle and regular exposure to natural light and dark. Nearly all organisms, including humans, have internal clocks (circadian rhythms) that control almost every biological system in our bodies, from our sleep-wake cycles and mood and performance patterns to our metabolic, immune and reproductive systems. Today, humans have never been exposed to so much disruption to their circadian rhythms, taking in light and dark in historically unnatural ways. We blast our eyes after dusk with blue-enriched light from ever-brighter, addictive screens, tricking our brains into thinking it’s still daytime.
More hotels, wellness resorts and airlines will think beyond generic sleep offerings to offer true circadian solutions for travelers based on their circadian cycle, revolving around the timing of light. People will adopt the terminology and practice of “circadian eating”: eating when it’s light, stopping after dark. Dr. Lockley predicts: “Circadian health optimization will become more important than ‘sleep’ in health and wellness within the next few years.
They’re active, vibrant, more engaged than ever, and 60+! It’s a powerful demographic with major marketing potential. The 60+ generation is aging radically different than previous generations. Today’s retirees start businesses, run marathons and travel widely. With increased longevity and substantial wealth, they put a premium on health, wellness and nutrition. The tech industry sees a multitude of products addressing adult health concerns. Virtual reality games improve cognitive function; home diagnostic kits allow for easy health monitoring, while a host of robotic assistants tackle the loneliness epidemic.
“People are aging so much better than in prior generations,” notes Perennial CoFounder Sara Bonham. “We wanted to create a product that empowered them, not just for a need-state, but something that they want.” The fitness industry is another industry seeing a demographic shift. Boomers compete alongside millennials for most active generation, with many retirees opting for at-home fitness equipment models such as Peloton or upscale boutique gyms.
Brilliantly marrying revered traditions with innovative technologies, Japan asserts a comprehensive culture of wellness.
As awareness of the 100-year Life Society spreads globally, it is natural to look to Japan. There are lessons to be learned from Japan’s lengthy leadership in longevity. Japan is executing exciting innovations on top of its cultural traditions.
Recent years have seen each of these become a global phenomenon: Ikigai, purpose but at a measured pace; Kintsugi, ‘art of repairing broken pottery’; Wabi-sabi, embracing imperfection and transience; Marie Kondo, de-cluttering by auditing the spiritual value of our possessions; and Shinrin-Yoku, forest bathing.
Japan’s deep reverence for nature also acts as preventative healthcare. Forest bathing began in 1982 with a Japanese national health program, coordinated by the Forest Therapy Society. Studies support the breadth of health benefits of connecting all five senses to nature, from reduced blood pressure, lower stress and improved cardiovascular and metabolic health to lower blood-sugar levels and improved concentration, memory and energy. The phytoncide in cedar and cypress has been shown to have calming effects on people, as well as providing a boost to the immune system.
Mental Wellness and Technology
Mental tech health, via virtual care, wearables, chatbots and other futuristic innovations, is moving mainstream to support the 450 million individuals currently struggling.
Mental health is moving far beyond the psychiatrist’s couch. Technological advancement has pushed digital therapeutics to the forefront of convenience, in people’s pockets, on their laptops and within Facebook. The World Health Organization estimates that 25 percent of all people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, care is far from the norm: Nearly two-thirds of those living with a mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.
The biggest barriers remain stigma, time, cost and availability. Tech is first and foremost redesigning traditional care by improving access and customizing the experience. Virtual therapy apps such as TalkSpace, BetterHelp and Amwell give patients the ability to call, text and video teleconference with professional counselors on their schedule and in the comfort of their own home.
Mental wellness wearables such as headsets and bracelets slowly see traction, though many are still in the early stages of clinical trials. Sentio Solutions recently announced Feel, an emotion-sensing wristband with integrated biosensors that monitors a user’s physiological signals throughout the day. Paired with an accompanying cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) app, it aims to help those suffering from anxiety and depression. Mindfulness and meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm and female-focused Sanity & Self offer audio tracks to relax listeners and strengthen mental resilience.
Exploring a new force in health and healing, both doctors and wellness practitioners are uncovering the potential of electromagnetic, light and sound interventions to heal your ‘energy body.’
It’s a striking fact that Western medicine and ancient medicines, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda and shamanic traditions, acupuncture, chakra balancing, reiki, qigong or sound baths have revolved around a radically different model of the human body and healing.
In modern Wellness Land nothing has been trending more furiously than ancient energy medicines. The desperation with which people try to ‘fix’ their energy is matched by the skepticism of critics. Whether you’re a believer in acupuncture but laugh at crystal-mania, medicine is now validating that we are a complex electromagnetic field. Scientists are also uncovering the ways that the entire world is electrodynamic: we’re surrounded by both natural and man-made frequencies that constantly change human cells.
The medical, technology and wellness worlds are all innovating new tools to optimize the human energy body. Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer, Six Senses states, “Indigenous people have been the knowledge-keepers of energy medicine for centuries, but the scientific community is now taking it seriously, so the world will listen. The invisible will become visible, and energy medicine will become as important as wellness itself.”
Medicine will be disrupted by discoveries about the bioelectric ‘language’ that cells use to coordinate our biophysical processes and new technologies will positively impact/regulate the body’s ‘command central’ electromagnetic fields. Frequency therapies, using sound, light and electromagnetic interventions, will rise in the wellness world.
Organized Religion Jumps Into Wellness
More religious organizations and ministry leaders are incorporating a wide range of health and fitness modalities. Millennials often refer to their gym as ‘church’ and now that could be taken literally. A growing number of religious institutions, nonprofit organizations and ministry leaders are incorporating health and fitness modalities. Current wellness offerings include Ramadan bootcamps, Jewish Sabbath service hikes, Christian wellness retreats, Catholic Pilates classes and Muslim fitness YouTube channels.
Many religious communities start with events such as aerobics classes that integrate sermons or prayer. There are also gym concepts entirely devoted to spiritual exercise. SoulCore pairs stretching and functional movement with the Catholics prayers of the rosary. Other entrepreneurs opt for a faith-centric franchise model, as evidenced by CrossFit F.M.S. (which stands for “For My Savior”). Females in Action (FIA), a free and peer-led, bootcamp-style workout program for women, finishes each workout with a prayer. In just six years, FIA has grown to more than 6,000 members, encompassing 53 regional groups across the US.
Roughly 84 percent of the world’s population identifies with a religious group, and nearly every faith in some way exalts not only the body’s capabilities but mankind’s duty to maintain good health.
The Wellness Sabbatical
The need to strike a balance between the pursuit of wellness and the need to work is the central concept of the wellness sabbatical. What is a wellness sabbatical? Think three weeks, or longer, of focusing on your health and wellness – enough time to make lasting lifestyle changes. But there is one significant differentiator from the usual wellness offerings: you will take your smartphone or laptop to stay connected with your work!
At times, people who have taken their devices on vacation have been shamed, but for many, disconnecting is just not possible and it would contribute to stress levels.
Technology has allowed us to become ‘digital nomads’ and the more comfortable you are working away from the office, the more successful your wellness sabbatical will be. The travel world is offering up unique options where co-working meets co-living. Gather, a new venture launching from Tel Aviv, is a month long program for those who want to work remotely in Israel while experiencing the communal Kibbutz lifestyle.
The most successful wellness sabbaticals will be those where the work and wellness programming is flexible but specific to each person’s unique needs. The design of the programs will be according to the best evidence-based science. Ideally, these programs will be conducted in beautiful natural settings. Movement and exercise options, healthy food, stress-reducing treatments, meditation and healthy sleep will all be incorporated. Wellness education sessions will be interspersed with work and social interaction. Occasional outings will be on offer and having fun will be encouraged!
The Fertility Boom
As both women and men take ownership of their reproductive health, reproductive assistance is becoming a crucial part of healthcare. Fertility has entered the mainstream conversation, it’s grown into a formidable femtech sector, empowering individuals to take charge of their reproductive health. Women, long underrepresented in medical research are increasingly taking ownership of their bodies. At its current 8.5 percent annual growth, the global fertility services market is expected to grow to $36 billion by 2023.
Fertility is of utmost importance in light of sobering stats. Countries such as England, Japan and the US continue to see record-low fertility rates. This stems from a number of reasons, including women of childbearing age delaying having children, as well as the continual deterioration of male sperm quality. Plenty of countries also inadvertently incentivize delaying motherhood; In the US, for example, women who reproduce before age 35 never see their pay recover relative to that of their partners.
Silicon Valley is at the center of this trend. A new generation of start-ups tout digital platforms, wearables, apps and modernized clinics to address fertility issues. Palm-size monitors and bracelets measure different physiological signals to predict ovulation windows. Trackers become more popular as big wearable companies offer such features. Education, comfort and simplicity lie at the heart of many products.
It’s not just women pushed to take action; men are also encouraged to improve their reproductive health. The last year saw an influx of products that measure, track and store male sperm in an effort to curb failing sperm health.
An emphasis on experience sees the growth of new medical clinics specifically tending to infertility. These clinics are highly ‘grammable: Chicago’s egg-freezing studio Ova boasts a glamorous, boutique-like aesthetic with pastel pink furniture, chic rugs, and fuzzy white pillows. A dramatic lobby chandelier provides soft ambiance, a far departure from hospitals’ harsh fluorescent lighting. Potential clients can learn more about the process during champagne-fueled happy hours or Q&A sessions held after free group workouts.
Music is undergoing a sudden wellness transformation. We all self-medicate through music, but most people don’t fully grasp how much they depend on music to manage their emotions or just how powerful the medical evidence is for music therapy. Studies reveal that humans are hardwired for music and no other stimulus positively activates so many regions of the human brain, with unique powers to boost mood and memory.
Funding for medical studies on music’s impact on the brain is heating up, with researchers using biofeedback, AI and machine learning to identify how music’s structural properties specifically impact biometrics like heart rate, brain waves and sleep patterns. The mainstream music industry is seeing an explosion of healing playlists on sites such as Spotify to musicians incorporating wellness experiences into concerts. The newest and biggest meditation apps are fast morphing into wellness music apps, Calm is planning to become a ‘new kind of label’ for artists to launch music for wellbeing.
The megatrend of ancient sound therapies (gong baths to Tibetan singing bowls) will rise at wellness studios and travel destinations. We’ll also see more experimentation with music and acoustic experiences at both mainstream and wellness travel destinations. Given music’s powerful impact on our brains and bodies, it’s extraordinary how little innovation there has been around intentionally designing music and sound experiences that could actively, positively change our mood, health and performance. Studies show music’s impact on depression, anxiety and pain. A key, recent focus has been hospitals using music therapy before surgery, as studies reveal that music reduces patients’ anxiety.
A recent Spotify survey of 15-37 year olds found that 56 percent ‘use audio as an escape from their screens,’ and audio is a ‘huge part of their everyday lives.’ A recent Sonos global survey showed people use music to boost their wellbeing: Roughly 75 percent report they listen to music to reduce stress, and that listening to music is key to producing their best work.
One of the most fascinating examples of the new ‘wellness music’ is the rising wave of generative music apps and streaming services that create tailor-made, always-adapting soundscapes, using algorithms and your own biofeedback, to improve your wellbeing. Their thesis; you’ve got the healing music in you, and when combined with smart algorithms and AI, these custom sound frequencies can function like an always-there playlist you can turn to if you need to de-stress, focus or sleep.
Sound baths and aural healing ceremonies using ancient instruments have been an ongoing wellness trend, with meditative sonic journeys taking place at many spas, fitness / yoga studios, wellness resorts and mainstream hotels. We’ll continue to see more wellness destinations use more modern acoustic therapies such as binaural beats, biosonic repatterning, using tuning forks at the sonic ratios inherent in nature with the goal of realigning your nervous system’s frequencies.
In Wellness We Trust: The Science Behind the Industry
Years of baseless claims about pseudo-scientific products have blurred the distinctions between legitimate wellness and charlatans who threaten to give wellness a bad name. Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website and product line that reportedly is worth $250 million, has become the ‘epicenter of the wellness industry’ according to Bloomberg News. “The beauty of the term ‘wellness’ is that it encompasses almost everything and can cost almost anything,” writes Eva Wiseman, columnist for the Guardian.
But what are the media at war with? Exercise? Healthy food? A good night’s sleep? A sense of community? Stress reduction?
Presumably not. These five cornerstones of wellness have plenty of proof as contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Nothing, no pill or Big Pharma solution, has more evidence for its impact on health than these five pillars. Call-out websites have begun to add nuance to the criticisms. So, it’s not wellness itself that’s being called out. Instead, it’s the sense that, whatever the merits of wellness, the industry hasn’t been policing itself!
The wellness market has boomed in the last few years and we’ve seen evidence-free apps and websites, dark-money ‘likes’, ‘five-star’ ratings and ‘wellness influencers’ for-hire. Many unscrupulous wellness providers don’t even pretend to offer scientific support for their claims. In one of her New York Times columns, Jen Gunter characterized the wellness industry as being awash in “useless products and scientifically unsupported tests.”
In anticipation of demand, and to facilitate that process, the Wellness Evidence website, part of the GWI platform, has undergone an upgrade. Dr. Marc Cohen, one of the founders, has spent his career trying to reconcile traditional modes of research with mindfulness. “The website “wellnessevidence.com, was to bridge those two worlds.” Dr. Cohen says.
The website’s mission involves every facet of the industry, and its mandate has broadened from providing information to providing context. As Dr. Daniel Friedland, another co-founder says, “It clarifies the degree of certainty or uncertainty that supports decision-making moving forward”.
Wellnessevidence.com now offers 28 modalities, “alternative, integrative interventions,” says Dr. Pelletier, ranging from exercise and weight loss through traditional alternative approaches such as acupuncture and meditation to more cutting-edge methods such as forest bathing.