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Health and Wellness post-COVID: Trends and statistics for 2021

Part 01

An introduction to health

Throughout the decades, health trends have experienced many reinventions, readjustments, and revisions. Whether it’s Greek muscle men lifting Halteres (what we now call dumbbells), 1980s VHS aerobic workouts, or modern wearable technology, the evolution of exercise methods may sometimes move faster than our understanding of what good health actually means.

Things that were once deemed healthy many years ago are now understood to be bad for our health. That acknowledgement of our past mistakes is what keeps us searching for better health and new advancements in wellness.

But first, in order to better understand where the trends are headed, let’s take a look at what we define as health.

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

Hippocrates

What is health?

The term health covers a broad spectrum of areas, but can generally be described as being in a state of good physical and mental wellbeing.

A more modern definition of health would also include the notion of striving to maintain a strong balance between all aspects of your wellbeing in everyday life, no matter how large or small the action.

To achieve better overall health through this state of physical and mental wellbeing, Psychology Today lists five main areas of focus:

The ability to control your stress management, and muster emotions that develop into good feelings.

The to control your stress management, and muster emotions that into good feelings.

The ability to control your stress , and muster emotions that develop into good feelings.

The ability to control your management, and muster that develop into good feelings.

The ability to control your stress management, and that into good .

But how healthy is our wellbeing? The graphs below provide some insights into the UK health and wellbeing from January to March 2012-2020.

Life Satisfaction
Graph illustrating changes in life satisfaction over the period 2012 - 2020
Worthwhile
Graph illustrating changes in people feeling worthwhile over the period 2012 - 2020
Happiness
Graph illustrating changes in happiness over the period 2012 - 2020
Anxiety
Graph illustrating changes in anxiesty over the period 2012 - 2020

Source: Office for National Statistics - Annual Population Survey

This focus on 2020 data in particular shows how the external factors of the world (such as Brexit and coronavirus) can affect overall health and wellbeing. The increased levels of anxiety and decreased levels of happiness are in direct correlation with England exiting the EU, and pre-lockdown worries nationwide.

Now that we know the five main areas of wellbeing required to achieve good health, and have seen how the world around us can affect it, let’s look into the key areas of health.

Types of Health

While the definition of the word has changed and evolved over the centuries, there are still three primary types of health, and they tend to fall under the following areas:

Physical Health. Physical health is defined as being in good physical condition and free from ailments of the body. A person who is in prime physical condition has a body that functions well.

Good physical health practices include exercise, keeping away from alcohol and cigarettes, and maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet.

Emotional Health. Contrary to popular belief, being in sound emotional health doesn’t mean being constantly happy. Instead, it relates to our capabilities to cope with everyday events in our lives, and our capacity to handle our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.

Good emotional health practices include being aware of your emotions and communicating your emotions in an effective and socially appropriate manner.

Mental Health. Perhaps the most difficult of the main three types of health to summarise, good mental health alludes to the ability to not only deal with emotions but how our brains process and interpret information.

Over the years, we’ve come to understand further how both physical and mental health work in tandem. In fact, all three of these areas have a direct impact on one another. For example:

  • 15 million people in the United Kingdom live with a long-term physical condition.
  • Over 4 million of those people have or will develop a mental health condition as well.
  • Individuals with cancer, asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure are more at risk of suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
  • 37.6% of people with severe mental health problems will also have a long-term physical condition.

Source: Mental Health Foundation

Part 02

Physical Health

The notion of good physical health influencing your overall wellbeing is not a new concept. However, the channels and methods through which we practice them are evolving.

There was a time when physical health tips and tutorials weren’t easily accessible. Technology has created the ultimate opportunity for busy career types, stay-at-home workers, and anything in between to fit in exercise around their busy schedules.

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Bruce Lee

New avenues of health and wellness are being cultivated out of these technological advancements, and it’s giving the world more access to physical health aides. In the UK, this includes the following developments established during the pandemic:

73%

of people took phone consultations with their doctor or nurse during the pandemic.

45%

of people were able to order a repeat prescription online.

30%

of people used the National Health Service website for additional health information and support.

10%

of people are now using a National Health Service device to monitor their health.

Physical Health statistics in 2021

One of the most fascinating things to have come out of 2021 is the change in the way people exercise. While the world has found itself locked indoors and restrictions have prevented outdoor activities, it seems like many aspects of the exercise industry are thriving.

According to this year’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, we have seen a year that has closed gyms, opened online workouts, and challenged fitness professionals to adapt their marketing and relationship-building strategies like never before.

Some of these statistics will come as no surprise, while others give an insight into a potential restlessness and desire to return to pre-COVID ‘normality’:

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Online training is the number one fitness trend globally for 2021, compared to ranking at number 26 in 2020.

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Continued innovations have kept wearable technology ranking high at number 2. It has previously ranked number 1 every year but one over the last 5 years.

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Despite COVID, outdoor activities have risen from 13th place in 2020 to number 4 this year.

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Fitness programs for the elderly continue to stay in the top 10.

These statistics offer an insight into the evolution of physical health. New avenues of exercise have created newer ways for physical health professionals to gain clients and enlist those who would usually not set foot in a gym.

It also shows a desire for many to go back outside to the great outdoors and exercise socially. Regardless, the innovations of technology have made it so that people now have a physical health routine that’s customised to their needs, that can fit around their schedules.

Worrying physical health trends

Perhaps as a reaction to COVID-19 and a desire to have the choice of being outdoors again, outside exercise activities remain a popular option.

While inactivity has always been one of the main contributors to poor health, the pandemic has meant that even more people have remained indoors. People who regularly exercise seem keen to get outside, but this lack of movement for many could be a larger problem in itself.

Inactivity is a worry, and it doesn’t just begin and end with mental and physical factors. When it comes to inspiring people to get out and about, it’s interesting to note that it seems the better quality of life someone has, the less active they tend to be.

Woman crying whilst being consoled by another person

According to the World Health Organization, this reduction in physical activity can have some powerful ramifications, both on the individual and the greater economy as a whole.

  • 26% of Men from high-income countries are insufficiently active in comparison to 12% of Men from low-income countries.
  • 35% of Women from high-income countries are insufficiently active in comparison to 24% of Women from low-income countries.
  • 1.4 billion adults globally are considered insufficiently active.

This inactivity has the potential to be greatly diminished with the accessibility of innovative health and wellness trends, which in turn, will help boost both mental and physical health.

While being outside again is important for the overall health of the individual and the economy as a whole, The New York Times reported on a worrying increase in childhood obesity in 2020, as well as the potential long-term effects of such an illness.

39 million children under 5 years old were listed as overweight or obese in 2020.

Source: World Health Organization

While physical activity guidelines are in place to help prevent childhood health issues, the unexpected impact of the coronavirus has made implementing them difficult.

From looking at the below statistics from 2018/2019, it’s easy to see why these guidelines for 2020 were put into action:

9.5%

Obesity in UK children in reception class 2017/2018

9.7%

Obesity in UK children in reception class 2018/2019

20:2%

Obesity in UK children in year six class 2018/2019

Physical health initiatives couldn’t have been implemented at a better time, with obesity and inactivity in adults putting a strain on hospitals over 2019/2020.

  • 10,780 hospital admissions are directly attributed to obesity.
  • Over 1 million hospital admissions listed obesity as a contributing factor.
  • 294 thousand medical prescriptions were for the treatment of obesity.

Source:NHS Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England 2021

As previous statistics have confirmed, a lack of activity not only affects your physical health – it can affect overall mental health too. With the above percentages in mind, it’s important to gain a better understanding of mental health itself.

Part 03

Mental Health

While the reasons for a greater emphasis on mental health tend to come from difficult situations, the correlation between physical and mental health, and how it can affect wellness, is a welcome one.

“Your body hears everything your mind says.”

Naomi Judd

Mental health statistics in 2021

While the world has adapted to new challenges, our collective mental health has been under the microscope. The pressures of modern living and greater access to educational materials has paved the way for mental health to be a less taboo subject, one that’s now being implemented into the overall notion of complete wellness.

As the trends and statistics for health and wellness 2021 show, people aren’t only considering physical exercise when implementing a good health regime. Mental health matters are just as important in the modern world as other health concerns.

A study of mental health in England by Mind reported that:

1 in 4

experience some kind of mental health problem

Only

1 in 8

adults will seek help for a mental health problem

With the added stresses of COVID-19, potential job safety, and other elements adding to the strain of peoples’ mental health, it’s no surprise that depressive symptoms are on the rise. In March 2021, ONS reported the following:

Percentage of adults with depressive symptoms, Great Briain, July 2019 to March 2021
Depressive Symptoms Graph

Source:Office for National Statistics – Opinions and Lifestyle Survey

It doesn’t just end with those who are able to stay home either. The added stress that COVID-19 has put on essential workers has seen a worrying increase in mental health concerns for those on the front lines of the pandemic across the world. According to Amnesty International, 75% of healthcare professionals in Portugal reported being at a high level of anxiety, and 57% of nurses described their sleep patterns as “bad” to “very bad”. Similar patterns would have been experienced around the world.

Through tiredness, stress, and anxiety, health workers are now pushing their mental health to the limit while saving lives and helping others.

While essential workers and adults feel the brunt of compounding worries, young people are becoming increasingly isolated and anxious. With teens learning how to spend their formative years in previously unforeseen circumstances, and educational institutions opening and closing continually, children are finding themselves lost and unsure of themselves.

Couple in the kitchen with the woman feeding the man a piece of toast

The following statistics are from a survey conducted with 2,438 young people from January 2021 to February 2021:

  • 75% of young people admitted that the current lockdown had been harder to cope with than the previous ones.
  • 67% felt that the pandemic would have a negative long-term effect on their mental health.
  • 79% of young people said that they believed that their mental health would begin to improve when restrictions were lifted.

Source:Young Minds

What are people worried about?

With obstacles and problems seemingly around every corner, all age groups are experiencing worry and concerns. Generally speaking, the worries fall under many of the same categories discussed in health and wellness factors, with added concerns for the wellness of others.

In a study for Young Minds, young people were asked to admit their main worries, and what was impacting their mental health the most. The most consistent responses are below:

58%

Loneliness or isolation

51%

Concerns about school, collefe or university work

39%

Not being able to do activities you would normally do

36%

Concerns about someone you know becoming ill

20%

Not being able to get the mental health support needed

19%

Relationships with people they live with

14%

Concerns about getting a job

12%

Concerns about getting ill themselves

12%

Money worries

10%

How young people are portrayed in media

Considering these concerns are mainly in relation to the worst parts of the global lockdown over the last year and a half, it’s easy to see how these worries can grow into serious mental health problems in the long term.

Not only this, as our understanding of mental health affecting physical health grows, we can identify the potential for physical health issues developing as a result of this. The Mental Health Foundation have elaborated on this, stating that:

“Mental health problems can come with physical symptoms. Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it’s not surprising that mental ill health can affect your body. Depression can come with headaches, fatigue and digestive problems, and anxiety can create an upset stomach, for example. Other symptoms can include insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.”

It seems that uncertain times are creating more worries, which in turn, are affecting physical and mental health continually. What’s more, it seems that many of our everyday environments such as the workplace and educational institutions aren’t being considered a safe place to open up about mental health issues.

Promising mental health trends

In the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, mental health-focused activities such as yoga, lifestyle medicine, and wellness coaching were all in the top 20.

Despite being a long-standing method of improving mental health and practising mindfulness, yoga received a giant boost over the last fifteen months. The most common reason given for practising yoga in the UK and Europe is mindfulness (39%), then fitness (19%). Some even admitted to doing so in the hopes of alleviating a mental health problem (6%). Other interesting statistics include:

  • The UK yoga industry is worth £926 million.
  • During the pandemic, yoga became the most popular UK topic on Instagram, boasting a 74% change.
  • 88% of surveyed yoga practitioners said that it had improved their physical health, while 82.6% said that it positively impacted their mental health as well.

Source: Finances Online

The benefits of yoga include:

Bolt icon

Relieves stress and anxiety

Heart icon

Good for your heart and blood pressure

Brain icon

Improves your mental health

Balance icon

Better flexibility and balance

Wind icon

More controlled breathing

As you can see, yoga ticks just about every box on the health and wellness checklist. Not only that, but it can be done from home, or outdoors, within a safe distance of others.

Part 04

Wellness

If health and wellbeing represents a broad spectrum of areas, think of wellness as the practice of harnessing each and every aspect of what you know about health into a lifestyle that’s implemented daily.

Wellness initiatives in the workplace and in everyday life have seen significant growth over the past few years, with the modern perspective being that wellness is just as much an individualistic endeavour as it is an external one.

“A healthy outside starts on the inside.”

Robert Urich

Types of wellness

Due to the fact that wellness can be anything from an individual feeling right up to the pursuit of global wellbeing, the definitions of wellness can vary greatly depending on the person. However, as a general rule, the following eight areas tend to be defined as good examples of wellness:

Hamsa icon

Spiritual

Smile icon

Emotional

Island icon

Vocational

Leaves icon

Environmental

People icon

Social

Running icon

Physical

Money icon

Financial

Brain icon

Intellectual

As you can see, some of these wellness areas are offshoots of the three main areas of health (physical, mental and emotional). But they delve further into the other factors that can affect health, including existential, spiritual, and financial elements too.

Many modern wellness trends focus on celebrating self-care and community ethics, in addition to finding a healthy balance of inner peace and outer confidence to achieve goals.

While what we define as healthy, whether through medical advice, advancements in science, or otherwise, has changed drastically over the decades, there’s still a clear and universal understanding of it.

Wellness has a much more ambiguous definition depending on things like goals, culture, and individual mindsets.

Wellness was a popular staple of many ancient Greek and Chinese practices thousands of years ago. It was celebrated as a means to prevent illness. Despite the concept of wellness being familiar, it didn’t reintroduce itself into modern western culture until the 1980s.

From the 1980s up to the early 2000s, the seeds were planted for workplace wellness initiatives that would grow exponentially over the next 20 years. Wellness gurus became household names, and these decades set in motion the inevitable growth that wellness would achieve heading into the 21st century.

Wellness trends and statistics 2021

The effects of COVID-19 have seen obstacles, but also hopefulness. With mental and physical health under considerable strain, it seems that people are ready to embrace wellness as a means to improve their lives.

Forbes reported on a survey taken by biotechnology company Gelesis where over 1,000 Americans were asked about their health and wellness in 2020.

71%

of people had gained weight throughout 2020

52%

of people admitted to feeling down about their appearance

Despite the pandemic, or perhaps even because of it, there were also some interesting shifts.

61%

of people said that they were more determined than ever to develop healthier eating habits

63%

are determined to maintain healthier lifestyle habits

This leads us to the positive uptrends in wellness within the workplace and the rise in popularity of wellness coaching.

Wellness action plans in the workplace

Mental health organisations like Mind provide free Wellness Action Plans for employees and managers to help create a happy, productive workforce and a better understanding of both sides moving forward.

Putting these essential elements in place will likely reduce the burden of the individual, and put the heavy lifting on the shoulders of employers to keep abreast of general team mood, and stress levels.

Workplace worries are also understandable when you take the economic implications of a post-COVID workplace. Whether businesses remain prosperous or not, there’s potentially no going back to a traditional work setting.

Workplace wellness initiatives were beginning to gain momentum pre-COVID-19, but companies are now having to adapt to much larger issues. Not only this, with the rise of automated management systems and e-commerce, the future work environment is potentially just as unclear to adults as it is to young people.

Wellness coaching

As something of a hybrid between physical science and mental therapy, wellness coaching has helped to unify the concepts of health and wellness into a singular modern approach to good mental health care.

Coming in at number 11 on the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, the rise in popularity of wellness and health coaching has led to an estimated $7 billion service market.

An all-encompassing method of mental and physical wellbeing, people use wellness coaches for anything from losing weight and managing ailments to quitting smoking or overcoming emotional eating.

An article published by Harvard Medical School reported on a recent study that noted the following results in people who had started using a wellness coach:

Improved cholesterol

Improved bood pressure

Improved body mass index

Improved cardiorespiratory fitness

Part 05

Maintaining health and wellness in a post-COVID world

While the fallout of COVID-19 and its global ramifications are still a little uncertain, it has also shed light on the importance of not only implementing good health practices but sticking to them daily.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

Health and wellness working in tandem

In 2018, the World Health Organisation began steps to ensure health and wellness remained a pivotal part of global sustainability. By launching their policy, titled ‘Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030’, WHO had already responded to the calls for a health and wellness plan before COVID-19 was in existence.

Here are just a few of the goals highlighted in the action plan:

Globe icon

For countries, cities and communities to take action throughout all global, local and regional areas.

Graph icon

A global reduction in physical inactivity by 15% by 2030.

Smile icon

A global action plan that can be customised to suit all areas, cultures and classes of people.

Questionnaire icon

Implementing a new process of a Global Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPAQ) to help countries monitor progress and assess risk factors.

The goals set out in this action plan spoke loud and clear about the future of health and wellness in a post-COVID world. The foundations of traditional good health practices remained, but variables such as geographical location, quality of life, and accessibility were also recognised as key factors of poor health.

Keeping health and wellness a priority in 2021

It’s abundantly clear from these statistics that mental and physical health need equal care and attention for better overall wellness. With COVID-19 meaning that many of us now work from home, the workplace can mean less hassle in your morning commute, but a much more stressful experience in new and unforeseen ways.

Figure 5.1: Time horizons of key mental health effects of the pandemic
Key mental health effects graph

Source: World Happiness Report 2021

The lack of exterior mental health support systems and exterior physical health amenities has given way to a more insular approach to wellness. One that focuses on the individual’s progress through routine, flexibility, and interactive action plans.

By taking these small steps, the notion of personal wellness and overall health feels less overwhelming and more manageable for people. From the comfort of their homes, it seems like the importance of maintaining health and wellness has caught on with people.

While these small steps are promising, it’s important to be mindful of COVID-19 being far from over, and the long-term effects it may yet have on our overall health.

Future health and wellness trends

It’s looking more and more likely that the future of health and wellness trends will be hybrids, both technically and emotionally.

Just as traditional gyms used new technology to adapt their classes, and just as lifestyle medicine and wellness coaching has used data-driven science to create programs for both physical and mental health, new trends will adapt to the world around us.

And there’s certainly an appetite for any trend that keeps wellness and health at the forefront.

  • The global wellness market is now estimated as being a $1.5 trillion industry.
  • 79% of surveyed consumers across 6 different countries said they believed wellness was important.
  • 42% of surveyed consumers considered wellness a top priority.

Source: McKinsey & Company

In “Feeling Good: The Future of the $1.5 Trillion Wellness Market”, McKinsey & Company lists the six dimensions in which consumers now view wellness:

Health icon

Better health

Fitness icon

Better fitness

Nutrition icon

Better nutrition

Apperance icon

Better appearance

Sleep icon

Better sleep

Mind icon

Better mindfulness

And as the trends and statistics of 2021 have shown us, all of these six things can now be accessed from the comfort of your own home.

Living spaces become the new gyms

It seems that while the world has been dealing with COVID, people are beginning to turn their living space into the ultimate combination of workspace, gym, meditative area, and mindfulness sanctuary.

With the growth of online exercises and home working, companies may soon adapt to these fresh changes even more, and begin cultivating personalised innovations that interact and encourage mindfulness.

Spirituality influencers

In a list of the most popular spiritual influencers online, we can perhaps predict that 2022 trends will fall less on the traditional return to brick and mortar gyms, and more on social media influencers who offer tips, insights, and a more personalised approach to health and wellness.

AI and voice technology

Much like Alexa and Google voice technology are implementing AI advancements to entice and keep consumers engaged, the future of health and wellness may be the bridge between physical health, mental health, and an even more personalised experience.

As stated in our introduction, the evolution of health and wellness tools have previously been faster than the global understanding of what those terms means to modern living.

  • The voice technology market reached almost $11billion in 2019.
  • It’s expected to increase upwards of 17% by 2025.
  • 127 million smart speakers were estimated to have been shipped globally in 2020.
  • 3 billion digital voice assistants were used in 2019. This is projected to double by 2024.

Source: Statista

With these statistics in mind, and COVID-19 making these exciting new combinations of technology and human interaction an everyday part of modern life, we are finally at a place where understanding and technology are nose to nose heading into 2022.