Wellness Trends

A short time ago, a client asked for a report on trends in wellness. At first, this seemed a straightforward and modest assignment. What’s complicated about identifying wellness trends? How hard could it be? I would search my opinion library, check around a bit, identify developments in spas (the Global Spa Summit group produced an excellent wellness trends report for that industry), business and elsewhere and bingo – I’d have a list of current and emerging wellness trends.

Well, the task proved a bit less simple than that. Once I started systematically preparing to assemble a list of trends, I realized there were two major challenges to address: 1) what constitutes a trend? 2) What trends should be considered wellness in nature? Both challenges proved substantial.

Wellness, as you know, represents varied ideas to different people and interest groups. How could I gather data on wellness trends if there were little consensus about the nature of wellness?

There was only one way to deal with this challenge, and that involved invoking a Gordian Knot-like solution. I had to cut through the confusion, which is to say, make stuff up. Yes, wellness trends would be whatever I decreed wellness trends were. Of course, I could be objective about the matter, more or less. To supplement deliberations (with myself), I would undertake a modified randomized double-blind crossover trial of a horizontal, vertical and dignified nature. I would be scientific. By accepting total responsibility as judge and jury of what constitutes wellness and trends associated with it, the task of identifying bona fide trends of a REAL wellness nature would be no problem.

The first thing to do was gather material. What did others think? I’d find out by asking wellness experts worldwide. I prepared a wellness trend questionnaire.

Once pre-tested and revised by a prestigious scientific panel (my wife and several carrot juice ergogenic drinking buddies), I sent the questionnaire to Ardell Wellness Report readers and the list service of a health promotion service (the HEDIR list). In addition, I placed the questionnaire at a major international website where it would be seen and completed by legions of business leaders. All participants in these three sectors saw the same five questions, to wit:

* What do you think are the most significant wellness trends?

* What are your ideas on how technology will affect wellness (i.e., programs, products, ideas) in the future?

* Is wellness more or less consequential to older folks than the rest? If so, explain.

* Do you know of any program (s) that you’d consider a “model” endeavor worthy of emulation? (Please identify the program and note why you think so.)

* What kinds or areas of research would you like to see undertaken of a wellness nature?

I was tempted to define wellness in a manner consistent with my own philosophy of wellness. In the latter, I favor the modifier “REAL” wellness (i.e., wellness focused on reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty pursuant to the quest for high quality of life). However, I realized right away this would mean there were would be no wellness trends identified – there might not even be reports of wellness sightings.

I began with a memo sent to my closest friends and wellness fellow travelers, asking about wellness trends in a letter that referred to these advisers as the “best and the brightest minds in the field.” Grant Donovan, my long-time associate (and co-author of a few books, the sponsor of many of my junkets Downunder, the co-producer of conferences and much more) responded immediately. I found myself in agreement with his sentiments about wellness and wellness trends:

“Don, not being either the best or brightest wellness mind, I can only offer a few insights from what you tell me and what I hear sitting in airport lounges and worksites around the world. Here is what I’ve heard. Money, sex, politics, hate, sport, stress, illness, personal conflict and the general lack of time most people experience come up regularly in conversation but you never hear anyone speaking about wellness. I suspect real wellness is not trending anywhere significant (on a world scale). Disease cure and prevention masking as wellness is booming, particularly if you have your money in the right bio-tech stocks.”

However, as the data started coming in, I was able to identify many possible trends.

The first trend is that efforts are widespread to assign consistent and clearer meanings for the term. This involves rendering wellness distinct from medical treatment, health risk reduction, spa treatments and basic fitness and nutritional basics. Rod Lees of Brisbane, Australia, put it this way: “The most significant trend in the wellness movement is your concept of REAL wellness.”

Of course, a trend is not the same as a reality. Rod continued: “However, in Australia, we are still struggling with getting the traditional concept off the ground. The challenge will be to get the corporate world to take hold of the broader concept and see the value in investing time and money in this area. We have a long way to go.”

Well, we all have a long way to go but the trend is “we’ve started.” For decades, the term wellness has been used freely by nearly everybody who had something to sell or, in a medical context, a treatment or program to apply. It has been bandied about as if it were self-evident, which never was the case. Now it is being described to apply to a good life well-lived apart from a medical context, as a philosophy that embraces life fully and rationally. The main trend noted in the survey is a widespread desire among wellness organizations to promote a particular meaning both specific and normative.

Wellness may have many interpretations, but some, particularly in Europe, are consistent with and basically the same as REAL wellness as described in “Aging Beyond Belief.” This, as noted earlier, is a mindset or philosophy focused on reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty in the pursuit of quality of life. It is totally apart from risk reduction, disease management and the medicalization of health. It is not so different from the National Wellness Institute’s definition (“Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices towards, a more successful existence”) but it seems more down-to-earth. Who can get energized or organized about “an active process?” What does that mean, anyway? As opposed to what – an “inactive” process?

Lutz Hertel, staff head of the German Wellness Association, wrote about the trend most evident in his part of the world: “The key trend I note is a growing understanding and acceptance in wealthy nations that health for aging societies will come down to a matter of lifestyle choices rather than improvements in modern medicine. The shift from risk factor and disease prevention to positive options like quality of life, meaning, purpose and ethics within the wellness provider community is a hopeful trend.”

The precise definition of wellness is not important, but the contents or elements of wellness dialogues, promotions and programs do matter. Mindsets, commitments and resolutions matter. Philosophies matter. The trend number one, therefore, and this could be wishful thinking, is an appreciation for REAL wellness, at least in some circles. Under this banner, wellness promoters are drawing attention to skill areas like meaning and purpose, ethics, an understanding and appreciation of scientific approaches to social and moral problems, celebrating the important of learning critical thinking skills, advocating an understanding of the science and dynamics of happiness and incorporating other issues that address and impact quality of life.


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