As the world broke through the astounding milestone of 100 million known Covid-19 cases, the Global Wellness Institute released its trends report for 2021. Chief among its messages: wellness has gone from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must-have’ – for all. The Florida, US-based non-governmental organisation defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health. The US$4.5 trillion global market encompasses all things wellness – anti-ageing, physical fitness, mental health, healthy eating, weight loss, health care, complementary and alternative medicine, medical tourism, and so much more. The GWI trends forecast is based on the insights of wellness company executives, economists, doctors, investors, academics and technologists who gathered in person and virtually at its summit in Florida in November. Here are six ways the wellness industry is transforming itself, and our lives, according to GWI’s director of research and PR Beth McGroarty. 1. Hollywood and big entertainment jump into wellness During the coronavirus lockdown, members of the beloved US rock band Weezer were recording a new album, “OK Human”. It reflects common experiences during lockdown, including loneliness and skipping daily showers. A masked 38-member orchestra accompanied the band to record the album, described as “a Technicolor symphonic spree that meditates on how over- and under connected we all are”. Mindfulness in 2020: think fire spinning and ice bathing American comedian Kevin Hart, 41, found lockdown with his wife and four kids gave him a fresh appreciation for his family, and that sticking together helped them adjust to the challenges. Hart is collaborating with the meditation app Headspace for a series which includes a Meditate With Me episode and “Mindful Runs” interactive in which he guides viewers on a virtual run with him. These are just two examples of ways that big entertainment is becoming enmeshed in wellness. McGroarty notes: “The ways that wellness has rewritten vast industries such as food, travel, beauty, real estate and fashion have been endlessly documented. Fewer people have paid attention to how wellness is starting to shake up the global entertainment industries, how more innovative wellness programming is hitting … the TV, and how new music for well-being concepts and platforms are transforming the US$50 billion global music industry.” Experiments across the entertainment industry – to deliver more wellness programming in more creative and meaningful ways – are heating up in 2021, McGroarty says. She points to Samsung, which has created a portal to thousands of hours of free wellness and fitness classes from the home screen. The mega meditation apps Calm and Headspace have their own TV series. “The entertainment world knows that wellness is now a much bigger value for people, and they’re comfortable consuming it at home. So, a new media-wellness convergence makes nothing but sense,” she adds. 2. A fresh look at immune health: to balance, not boost McGroarty leans on solid research when she states: “The concept of ‘immune boosting’ is precisely the wrong way to create a healthy immune system. And while the immune system is one of the most astoundingly complex areas of medicine, the wellness market has led with a storm of trendy, quick-fix ‘immune boosting’ superfoods, supplements and treatments, which matter far less in creating long-term immune health.” She quotes Dr Ken Pelletier, professor of medicine at University of California at San Francisco, who suggests that it is nonsense to believe you can ‘boost’ your immunity, and that an overactive immune system causes the body to attack itself, leading to autoimmune diseases, or in the case of Covid-19, the release of a cytokine storm that can kill, not cure. Essentially, Pelletier says, we want to modulate the immune system rather than crank it up. A University of Alberta study found that #immunebooster posts soared 46 per cent a month after the pandemic started, and many used biomedical jargon to give unproven “immune boosting” products credibility. The researchers concluded: “The current interest in the scientifically questionable concept of ‘immune boosting’ may lead to the spread of inaccurate information about immunity that could instil a false sense of security leading to higher-risk behaviours.” Pelletier and other experts suggest the way to a well modulated responsive immune system is not any particular functional food, supplement, herb or treatment. How the mind and body connect and affect the immune system Instead, the cornerstones of immune resilience are the core pillars of wellness: healthy eating and sleeping, stress-reduction and exercise. “The number one thing that can strengthen our immunity (personally and as a culture) is to focus relentlessly on sensible, science-backed diets that drive metabolic health (and stop the profusion of trendy, complex ones that don’t),” McGroarty says. We can expect to see a greater focus on: the gut microbiome, in which 70 per cent of our immune system is headquartered ; personalised nutrition; intermittent fasting as a means of regenerating the immune system; and other ‘positive stress’ experiences including hot/cold exposure, breath work, and short bursts of high-intensity exercise, aimed at safeguarding immune health. 3. Just breathe In recent years, clinical studies from top US institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins have put modern science and real data behind what we’ve known for centuries: the way we breathe has profound effects on our mental and physical health and abilities. And it could even help strengthen our immune system. More people are reaching out to learn new breath work practices, such as those from the “Ice Man” Wim Hof and others, for rehabilitation, fitness, and relief from chronic stress, trauma and PTSD. As the virus recedes, we can expect to see more breath work parties and festivals as more people catch on to techniques embraced by elite athletes, the military and others. What is breathwork and why is it like ‘meditation on jet fuel’? The best part of all is that this drug-free medicine costs nothing. 4. Self-care: wellness and health care converge Two complementary yet often competing entities – health care and wellness – are starting to converge. Consumer demands are forcing them to coexist peacefully, the GWI report suggests. As the wellness industry begins to adopt scientific methods to establish standards and raise its credibility, health care is beginning to find ways to transform itself into a more holistic and lifestyle-oriented industry. More hospitals may seek inspiration from five-star resorts, and modern prescriptions may come with personalised guides to optimal health. As McGroarty suggests, the pandemic has solidified the importance of hospitals, prescriptions and doctors. “But by emphasising self-care , we can all decrease our dependence on the parts of health care we’re trying to avoid … by taking deliberate actions to care for our mental and physical health.” 5. Money matters – as financial wellness evolves There has been a long-standing taboo against money talk – along with religion, sex and politics. This is quickly changing: research links financial stress to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, respiratory conditions and more. To cope, a financial wellness movement is taking hold, to help educate people on everyday money matters and how to do more with less to protect their livelihood and their mental health. The report highlights European health tech start-up ZavFit, which has developed the first health tool for money that focuses on improving the individual’s health and happiness. Company founder and CEO, Anna Freeman, says “Being ‘money fit’ isn’t about how much money you have. It’s about how you use the money that you do have. Are you spending it on the things that make you healthy and happy?” As financial therapist and author of The Financial Anxiety Solution Lindsay Bryan-Podvin suggests, if you value sustainability and community, you’d be better off spending money at a market or local grocery store than at a large retailer. 6. 2021: The year of the travel reset The pandemic put the brakes on travel in 2020 and gave travellers and suppliers the chance to consider what travel might look like in future. In her report, McGroarty suggests 2021 may be the year that all travel becomes wellness travel. Travellers will become more mindful of the reason for a visit, considering where to spend their money, how to use their tourism dollars to sustain cultures and places, and maybe leave a place a bit better than they found it. Expect to see more people keen to embrace nature, and to take their time, traversing a place by human-powered means – walking, cycling, climbing or kayaking. And they may be more inclined to travel with a purpose – to learn a new skill or to give back to a community in need.