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Global Wellness Summit 2020

The 2020 Global Wellness Summit was relocated to The Breakers in West Palm Beach, Florida, US after it became clear earlier in the year that the ongoing pandemic would prevent international travel for most. This first-ever hybrid event, has the potential to be a new model for conferences the world over, across industries. The summit seamlessly combined in-person keynotes with virtual presentations from speakers worldwide, with all sessions available to virtual delegates of the summit attending online. Those present at the summit could choose to sit at a regular banquet chair, positioned at a safe distance from the next, or a fitness ball, exercise bike or cross trainer (provided by Planet Fitness) allowing attendees to stay active during the summit and adding another ‘wellness element’ to the experience.

Upon arrival at the summit, all delegates were required to take a Covid-19 test (carried out by Premier Family Health, Florida), this minimally invasive procedure was carried out quickly and smoothly and results were received within 20 minutes. Social distancing, hand sanitizer stations and UVC lighting portals all played a part in ensuring safety at this year’s summit.

Mental Wellness takes center stage

Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung of GWI presented the latest research report by the Global Wellness Institute: Defining the Mental Wellness Economy. The global mental wellness economy is now worth $121 billion, based on consumer spend in four markets. It’s the first study to define mental wellness as opposed to mental health and clarify key concepts and pathways.

Mental wellness is established as an internal resource that can be depleted and replenished. The media raises many important questions about mental wellness, access to care and tools is not equal for all, especially during a pandemic. “Stress, loneliness and burnout were exploding pre-pandemic, and a stronger focus on mental wellness has been a cultural mega-shift these last few years” said Ophelia Yeung. Katherine Johnston added: “There is urgency to this research: study after study shows how the human suffering and economic dislocations caused by the pandemic have ravaged our mental wellbeing.”

Senses, spaces, & sleep – $49.5 billion

This category spans products, services, and designs that target our senses and the mind-body connection, impacting our mood, stress levels and sleep. The segment includes sound, scent, touch, and light. Multisensory experiences from flotation tanks to forest bathing, biophilic design and circadian lighting.

Brain-boosting nutraceuticals & botanicals – $34.8 billion

The category includes ingestible products with the specific goal of improving mental health and wellbeing, in addition to plant-based drugs increasingly used for mental wellness, cannabis, hemp, CBD, psilocybin, and other functional mushrooms.

Self-Improvement – $33.6 billion

This spans a range of activities including self-help books, media, video, apps and online platforms; gurus and influencers; personal and life coaches; organizations delivering classes, workshops and retreats; organizations and mutual support groups; cognitive enhancement and brain training; creative organizations and online platforms combating loneliness and isolation.

Meditation & mindfulness – $2.9 billion

While millions of people worldwide practice meditation, only a fraction spend money on it. The category includes meditation practice, mindfulness (e.g., breathwork, guided imagery, body scan, relaxation exercises), and products and services that support these practices.

Four Prestigious Awards were presented to wellness visionaries

The Debra Simon Award for Leader in Furthering Mental Wellness was presented to Lynne and Victor Brick by Susie Ellis, chair and CEO, GWS, on behalf of Lauren Wright. The Foundation’s mission is to fund and promote research on healthy lifestyle choices. The Debra Simon Family Foundation sponsors the award.

The Global Wellness Award – Leading Woman in Wellness, was presented to Veronica Schreibeis Smith, founder of Vera Iconica Architecture, by GWS Chief Creative Officer Nancy Davis. Schreibeis Smith, a pioneer in the wellness architecture movement, was recognized for designs that are in complete harmony with nature, along with the aesthetic, science and technology. Hyatt Hotels & Resorts sponsored the award.

The Inaugural GWS Prize for Innovation was awarded to Amai Proteins, an Israel-based innovator focused on fixing the global food system one protein at a time. Amai’s innovation, Sweet Designer Proteins sugar substitutes – a healthy sustainable alternative to sugar. The competition was sponsored by WellTech1, a wellness fund and innovation hub in Tel Aviv.

Krysta Silva, from Atlanta, Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, took first place for her allergy sensing fork, Samii in the Shark Tank of Wellness Global Student Competition. The Shark Tank of Wellness award was presented by Frank Pitsikalis, founder and CEO of ResortSuite (Canada). Silva’s innovation uses nanotechnology and the cellulose nanocrystals inside the fork to attract the allergenic proteins and detect them.

Holistic Medical Care

One theme that arose several times during the summit was the notion that ‘Healthcare’ and ‘Self-Care’ (synonymous with wellness) must be intertwined and people must be treated holistically, taking more responsibility for their own wellness and lifestyle choices, but receiving the support and advice from knowledgeable medical and wellness professionals.

Dr. Vincent Apicella and Dr. Mariaclara E. Bago, Founders of Premier Family Health, US outlined their methods for transforming healthcare during the pandemic. Having met during med school, over a dead body no less, the couple brought their vision of a patient-centered approach to life, with like-minded doctors and specialists long before it was popular to include wellness and alternative practices. “Patients must be informed and empowered to make the right choices,” says Dr. Mariaclara author of a new book that will be released in 2021, Happy, Healthy Horny and High, addressing CBD and its benefits, libido and hormone replacement therapy, reducing medication for pain, insomnia, and depression.

“Loneliness has become an epidemic as serious as the pandemic,” said Vivek Murthy, 19th US Surgeon General, Author of Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. People feel they are alone, struggling with many issues. Loneliness increases risks for many other conditions and reduces the probability of successful outcomes for treatments. The importance of our relationships with other people highlights the power of social connection in combating loneliness. When people manage to build a relationship first, they do a better job of continuing dialogue in the face of disagreements. Moments of connection that leave us feeling seen and heard have a lasting effect and the benefits stay with us. “There are few medicines in the world more powerful than love, compassion, and kindness.”

The UK has now appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’ to address this issue and tackle the consequences of loneliness on the health system and also on the economic output of the country. Australia and various European countries are also highlighting the issue in an effort to prevent the detrimental effects of loneliness. Connection and community must be fostered in schools and organizations to buffer stress levels and bring people together, facilitating understanding and healing.

Achieving Health Equity: this panel was moderated by Nicola Finley, MD, Board Certified Internal Medicine Physician, Canyon Ranch, US as she spoke with Pamela Garmon Johnson, National VP for Health Equity Impact and Partnerships, American Heart Association, and Elizabeth Aquino, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor, DePaul University, School of Nursing, US. Health disparities affect many segments of the population. Trust is an important factor when people of color see their healthcare provider, Elizabeth talks about initiatives to encourage more people of color to go into the healthcare industry. When people feel like they are not being heard, they can ask to see another provider, and we must empower them to advocate for themselves more. Not everyone feels capable to speak up and may not have someone to advocate for them. Pamela highlighted the importance of access to quality food, which can really make a big difference to health. Approximately 80% of disabled people typically do not have employment which then puts this demographic in a more vulnerable position for the level of healthcare. Not all disabilities can be seen by others, and policies such as cancellation times can discriminate against these people who can experience unexpected pain or symptoms preventing them from attending.

Tourism, wellness real estate and communities

Catherine Feliciano-Chon, CatchOn, Hong Kong spoke with Anna Pollock of Conscious Travel, UK about resetting and future-proofing tourism. The Pandemic has highlighted the flaws in the way we have been living and traveling, in addition to our disconnectedness from the natural world. The economy and environment must be considered simultaneously. A destination is a living system, its purpose needs to be considered, all nature is based on communities and every part works together and we can adopt the same principle. Countries and economies that are dependent on foreign income and travelers must adjust their expectations and adapt economies previously viable in that region. It is no longer feasible for any destination to rely solely on travel and tourism. “Nature has certain rules, if we break those rules, we pay the consequences. We are not separate or superior.”

Amanda Ho of Regenerative Travel, Hong Kong explained how the concept of ‘regenerative travel’ includes the replenishment of environments suffering from over-tourism; the conscious consumer wants to travel in a different way. This takes into account the cultural traditions of the area, the ecosystem, and how to sustain and develop alongside a thriving local community. Travelers want to make a positive impact, an upcoming white paper, directed at hoteliers, will outline the various ways resorts and properties can adapt their practices to cater to this demand.

A panel discussion on the future of wellness real estate and communities was moderated by Nancy Davis of GWS, included Dilip Barot, Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences, Alfredo Carvajal, Delos Living, Jeffrey Abramson, The Tower Companies, Craig Collin, Tavistock Development Company, Judy Mackey, STRATA Integrated Wellness, Dr. BK Modi, Wellness 2020 Singapore, Steve Nygren, Serenbe, and Veronica Schreibeis-Smith, Vera Iconica Architecture.

Alfredo outlined the concept adopted by Delos; to create the best environment for human nature and the body inside the four walls of any building. They started with high-end luxury residential and are now working to democratize the concept into residential properties for the population at large. They will also start to focus more on mental health in their innovations. Jeffrey shared an impactful quote: “The person who manages your building has a bigger impact on your health than your doctor.” Veronica illustrated her unique approach to building and the ‘feel’ of each space and its ability to energize and relax us via the vibrational frequencies of building materials. Nudge architecture encourages residents to make healthy choices throughout the day. Steve shared the success Serenbe has had connecting their residents with nature, incorporating organic farms and maintaining 70% of their land without buildings, allowing open, rural space.


James Nestor, Best-Selling Author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art shared the finding of his research into respiration. Poor breathing is known to lead to many chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, ADHD, allergies and chronic sinusitis. Our ability to take in free and easy breaths has declined. Our mouths have become so small that our teeth have become crooked, our ancestors never had this problem – they all had perfectly straight teeth! This also affects our ability to breathe through our noses and blocks our airways, we are the only species of the animal kingdom to suffer from this. This means many of us end up breathing through our mouths, this is extremely unhealthy and affects the way our bodies function, causing bad posture, receding chin and tired eyes.

Within a couple of hours of being restricted to mouth breathing, the blood pressure shoots up, snoring increases dramatically, and sleep apnea occurs. When the opposite is tested and nose breathing is encouraged, snoring decreases and disappears within days, sleep apnea disappears and blood pressure normalizes also within days. Effective habits include breathing through the nose, breathe slowly and steadily – rosary prayer and yoga mantras encourage this type of breathing, leading the body into a state of coherence. Breathe less – when you reduce the number of breaths per minute you increase the efficiency, and breathing awareness – we can take conscious control of our breathing and impact the body. Breathing can increase heat in the extremities by 17%, allowing monks to spend time in the Himalayas wearing only their robes. For example, Wim Hof has used breath to heat his body to fight off infection. Inhale for five second and exhale for five seconds, always through the nose. Bear in mind, habitual breathing is different from specific breathing exercises where you may follow different patterns and breathe also through the mouth.

Dr. Marc Cohen, Extreme Wellness Institute, Australia spoke with Wim Hof, The Iceman, The Netherlands and James Nestor, Author, asking, “How should we breathe?” Habitually, for the majority of the day, breathing should be slow, steady, and through the nose. However, breathing exercises for short periods of time can of course differ from this. Balance the body via breathwork and short exercises and the body will benefit the rest of the day, boosting the immune system, calming the nervous system, and benefitting overall health in many ways. Breathing has the ability to change our biochemistry, reducing the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the brain, and helping the body restore and repair. The correct breathing technique encourages alkalinity in the body, helping to prevent disease. Wim led us through his simple breathing exercise as a group, 30 deep breaths in, followed by a breath-hold, repeat this cycle three times and you will likely be amazed that you can hold your breath for around two minutes by the last cycle.


Dr. Michael Breus, The Sleep Doctor, taught us how to be better in bed! The required eight hours of sleep is a myth; it is different for everyone based on the length of their sleep cycle, and five rounds of sleep. Sleep is a window into your health and can be a predictor of future conditions, such as Parkinson’s in the case of one patient. If you are not sleeping well there is either a physical issue or a mental or emotional issue. Dr. Michael has created the ‘Chrono Quiz’, a few basic questions can identify your type and the lifestyle that fits you best. You are a Lion (15-20% of the population) early birds who optimistic go-getters who prioritize health and fitness, a Bear, (55% – the majority of the population), a Wolf, (15-20%) the night owl, creative risk-takers who don’t typically follow patterns, or a Dolphin (10%) with erratic sleep schedules, and can be OCD and insomniacs.

Five steps to better sleep:

Wake up at the same time
Stop caffeine by 2 pm
Limit alcohol 3 hours before bedtime
Limit exercise 4 hours before bedtime
Get 15 minutes of sunlight every day

Investment in Wellness

Rick Stollmeyer, Founder, Mindbody, US, recently published his book: Building a Wellness Business that Lasts. The modern wellness movement started in the ’80s, fueled by baby boomers, and was enabled by technology, namely VHS tapes and computers. The second wave fueled by Gen X reaching their 30s in the late ’90s and enabled by database technology and the internet. The third wave fueled by the Millennials reaching their 30s is characterized by specialization in fitness classes, smartphones, and monitoring technology such as fitness wearables. The pandemic has disrupted the third wave, leading to the fourth wave arriving sooner than expected. We can expect more growth, however less brick, and mortar locations, more hybrid online/offline, more home-based fitness, and corporate wellness. Wellness will now be democratized thanks to the latest technology AI/ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning) and cloud-based systems.

What’s required to succeed:

Your TAM (total addressable market) needs to be tightly defined, (geographic and demographic)

Specialized products and services

Hybrid delivery models that leverage the right tech

Scalable, repeatable business models

Innovation in the next ten years will move at a rapid pace! Successful entrepreneurs must have authentic enthusiasm, grit, agile thinking, and effective decision making.

We heard from several investors about what they are looking for in wellness industry startup pitches. Ideas are plentiful, if you can convince them that you can execute the business, that’s what makes the difference! Be prepared, know your market and have a strategic plan that includes finances, strategy, and execution. Typically, investors are looking for returns within five years, of course, it depends on the business model, some will look at longer time frames up to ten years. Ultra wellness and wellness communities are certainly at the forefront. When the investors were asked about interest in Latin America, the response was positive – get your pitches ready!

The 2021 Global Wellness Summit will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel


By Sara Jones, Editor

Author: Fabiola

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