COVID-19 has gripped the world for much of 2020, transforming the way we work and live. But as people worldwide struggle to cope with the new stresses and challenges of life in coronavirus times, they're discovering new ways to get and stay healthy.
The top 5 health and wellness trends for 2021 and beyond were born of necessity during the pandemic, but they're here to stay, with multiple benefits for body and mind. Bon voyage 2020, here's what you need to know about the future of health and wellness for 2021 and beyond:
1. Telemedicine Transforms Healthcare
According to the CDC, during the first quarter of 2020, the number of telemedicine appointments across the US increased by 50 percent. By mid-year, that number had risen to 154 percent.
Telemedicine – consulting with a doctor or other healthcare practitioner by phone or computer – has gradually been working its way into the medical mainstream, thanks to a larger digital revolution in healthcare that has introduced various tools for monitoring a patient's health from home.
Since March, new telehealth options have been helping millions of patients and doctors stay in touch, save time, and avoid risky contact during the pandemic. And many practitioners say it's even more effective than in-person appointments, even for people with more serious, chronic conditions.
Wearable device fitness and wellness trackers, like the Fitbit or Oura ring, also help make telehealth more relevant and user-friendly. These devices collect essential data about blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels and share them with doctors with the click of a mouse.
More sophisticated "digiceutical" devices like glucose monitors and oximeters can help doctors manage severe diseases like diabetes and COPD from a distance.
The most recent surge in the use of telemedicine is within the realm of mental health. Recent statistics reveal that in the months since January 2020, the number of people booking virtual mental health visits has increased by an average of 77 percent.
The rise of telemedicine has also produced niche services that focus on meeting a particular need or interest outside the medical mainstream.
Holistic practices like Parsley Health offer access to a community of practitioners through monthly plans that allow subscribers unlimited access to its services and at-home testing. Canada's Gennev focuses on the health concerns of menopausal women with coaching, lifestyle advice, and more. And numerous medical cannabis sites such as HelloMD support people who use or want to try cannabis for a variety of health concerns.
2. Psychedelics Meet Mainstream Medicine
For decades, psychedelic drugs like LSD, psilocybin (or "magic mushrooms"), and peyote were considered dangerous, mind-altering substances. But recent research reveals that these and other psychedelics can have powerful benefits for treating PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues.
Backed by entities like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Medicine(MAPS) and the Canadian startup Numinus Wellness, MDMA(3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine), a drug better known by the street names Molly and ecstasy, is rapidly becoming a vital tool in treating severe PTSD.
Along with MDMA-assisted therapy, other psychedelics are being investigated for their potential health benefits. Advocates of microdosing LSD, psilocybin, and other drugs say that taking minimal doses of these substances can help to improve mood and concentration without causing the altered consciousness of higher doses. In that way, they can work in ways similar to pharmaceuticals for problems such as anxiety and depression without powerful prescription drugs' undesirable side effects.
2021 holds great promise for the legalization of psilocybin and MDMA for clinically-assisted psychotherapy across North America.
3. The Gut Microbiome: Your Second Brain
If you've experienced "butterflies in the stomach" before a stressful event you know the brain and the gut are somehow connected. A growing body of research is revealing just how close that connection is – and why this "second brain" in your stomach and intestines plays a crucial role in the health of body and mind.
With functions ranging from breaking down foods and making essential nutrients available to the body as a whole, the gut is the key to maintaining energy, regulating hormones, boosting immunity, and more.
And now, scientists are learning that the rich and complicated gut microbiome has some startling similarities to the brain – and those similarities help explain the connections between emotions and the digestive system.
Antidepressants can often help to relieve the symptoms of bowel diseases like IBS and Crohn's disease. And conversely, changes in diet can sometimes benefit people with mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
It's estimated that 95 percent of the body's supply of the mood-boosting chemical serotonin production occurs within the small intestines, not the brain. Due to this, supporting gut health with a proper diet and supplements like pre-and probiotics, or cannabis. Eating fermented foods like kimchi or saurkraut is a good addition as are mushroom supplements which act as prebiotics to stimulate the growth of gut microbiota.
All of these can play an influential role in relieving common mental health issues and may boost the immune system for overall health.
As research continues to reveal new insights into the gut's microbiome, this "second brain" will become the focus of healthy wellness routines and lifestyle changes to promote mental and physical health in 2021 and beyond.
4. Preventative Lifestyle: Maximizing Wellness
The pandemic has put a renewed focus on wellness, as people worldwide are working harder to get and stay healthy. By mid-2020, the US was facing a shortage of bicycles – and online fitness apps and classes are at an all-time high as gyms remain closed, and people look for new ways to stay fit during lockdowns and quarantines.
This "preventative lifestyle" also includes increased interest in cooking healthy meals at home and taking other steps to avoid illness, such as reducing stress, improving sleep, and adding key supplements such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc, and turmeric to the diet.
Although many people adopted healthier habits during the pandemic out of necessity, these lifestyle changes have positive effects that will outlast the COVID-19 crisis – and committing to overall wellness is a key trend that will last far beyond the pandemic.
5. Holistic, Conscious Parenting: Redefining Family
For millions of children globally, virtual learning has taken the place of classrooms, creating new issues for parents who may also be working from home. Other stressors come with isolation from extended family, such as grandparents and other family members, who in the past may have helped more around the house.
The pandemic has challenged parents with kids at home on every level. For many, it means embracing a more holistic parenting style that's less focused on competition and achievement and more about children become healthy, happy individuals.
Because parents and children are spending more time together than usual, they're finding new ways to bond as a family around shared activities and interests. That also allows parents to reevaluate their beliefs and values and develop new systems to make the family work. As everyone returns to work and school, this kind of conscious parenting could continue to shape family dynamics well after the pandemic subsides.
The COVID crisis has had a lasting impact on public health, and changed the way people manage health and wellness in daily life. The hottest trends for 2021 offer new ways to stay healthy in the new year – and beyond.