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The Evolution of Wellness

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The Evolution of Wellness

[Header image credit: Canva]

By John Kelly, VP, Planning Insights Performance Science

May is Mental Health Month, so it seems like the perfect time for a journey through wellness, how it’s defined today, and how it will impact the way brands engage consumers.

The health and wellness landscape has evolved for younger generations to something much more intimate and personal than the mere physical wellness state of one’s health. With the rise of transformational technologies and apps that can outsource our physical health, younger generations turn their focus towards their mental and emotional wellness through their work, leisure and interaction with each other.

The Way It Was
For decades, when health and wellness have been talked about it’s been focused on the fitness aspects. Ideas of wellbeing were limited to specific health-conscious consumer groups, often seen as part of a luxury or alternative lifestyle. Outward appearance was the focus, with the wellbeing landscape consisting of fad diets, restrictive regimes, and fitness crazes. Brands outside of the health and nutrition sectors were unlikely to consider the importance of wellbeing at all.

All the way back to the ‘50s before it was a toy, the hula hoop was a workout tool.

In the ‘60s, Vibrating belts were what would melt away our fat.

Thanks to Arnold, lifting weights gained popularity in the ‘70s.

The ‘80s brought us aerobics and all it’s video derivatives (Jazzercise, Buns of Steel, Sweatin’ to the Oldies).

The early ‘90s brought us gadgets – Thigh Master, BowFlex and Ab Roller.

The late ‘90s ushered in videos of fitness efficiency like :08minute Abs, P90X, and TaeBo.

The Shift Begins
The ‘00s are were we first started to see the shift from a purely physical, vanity aspect to something spiritual and meditative in the form of Yoga. In 2004, 15 million people practiced yoga – a 29% increase from the previous year. The most significant spike happened following 9/11. People were so stressed out, they needed a way to calm themselves.

Through the ‘00s and early 20teens, communal classes that incorporated dance and music gained popularity. Zumba classes led the charge to show fitness didn’t have to be work, it could be fun.

For those pursuing healthy activities, this idea of relieving stress became as important as the physical benefits.

The ‘00s also brought about the rise of fitness trackers. Technology designed to help keep us on our path to Health Wellness. In addition to steps and calories burned, apps to help us track the foods we consumed became the mainstay.

While we are still focused on physical fitness, we’ve seen at home workouts are on the decline (60% – 56% 2012-2017). While fitness centers/clubs have increased over the same period. The more popular trends have an element of tribalism – like CrossFit and SoulCycle. These give us a sense of belonging. Which is a basic human need. One that helps us cope. Younger generation consumers pursue meaningful experiences that inspire rejuvenation and collaboration. A sense of belonging improves our motivation and happiness; or as we now define, our Wellness.

Wellness Redefined 
The shift to a more holistic definition of wellness is being accelerated even more by younger generations. Growing up being bombarded by traditional health promotion messages that come across as ‘empty’ and packed with ‘fear of their future health’ has altered their approach.

A study conducted by BMC Public Health concluded that younger people today are doing physical activity to feel good and to enjoy themselves. Traditional motivators like ‘winning’ and ‘pleasing others’ were not motivating factors to change their current behavior. Further more, The Mintel Healthy Lifestyles 10/2017 report reflects this shift. When asked, “What does a “healthy lifestyle’ mean to you?” ages 18-24 included “Feeling Emotionally Stable,” “Maintaining a Good Work Life Balance,” and “Dedicating Time to Relaxation” more than any other generation.

For brands, the new definition of wellness has transformed from a consumer need into a commercial driver.

The importance of wellness has opened the door for new products and services to help consumers manage daily routines reduce clutter in their lives and reduce stress.

As the wellness movement surges, the concept of self-care (assumes that we’re OK as we are and we just need to take care of ourselves) is increasingly in vogue, and app developers are rushing to make the most of it. Especially in the aspect of mental well-being.

Calm, Happify, Talkspace, Pacifica, Shine, Gratitude and Lantern are just a few of the self-care-driven apps populating the iOs and Android app stores right now.

As mindfulness goes mainstream, time-poor workers – particularly millennials – are managing their wellbeing by indulging in short bursts of relaxation. Apps and wearables that once only monitored our activity are now able to help us monitor and engage in the new aspects of wellness. Examples include MoodnotesSpire,  and Thync.

Beyond the development of new apps and devices, we’ve seen this shift taken to heart by a number of brands across multiple categories from CPG, beauty, and travel. Here are a few examples: Gatwick Airport FlogaFrankfurt Airport Silent ChairsNeom Organics Wellbeing School.

In Closing 

In a digital era marked by complexity, speed and volatility, consumers’ wellbeing needs are far from simple. Brands have a crucial role to play in educating and empowering consumers young and old, who are losing trust in the ability of traditional institutions – governments, media – to provide them with what they need to cope with a stress-inducing society.

Brands that understand and develop messaging, services, and solutions that fulfill their needs will be likely to find their own state of Wellbeing.