AI-created plant-based foods, a growing reliance on mental health outreach and online fitness programs are just a few of the health and wellness trends we can expect for 2021.
Interestingly, a year ago this time, before the COVID-19 outbreak, online fitness apps and virtual fitness classes were predicted to be hot in 2020. As gyms and fitness studios closed for months, a reliance on online classes that people can take from home has grown.
The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. Memes abound on social media — like having a quarantini — poking fun at the excesses people have engaged in to cope with the stresses of 2020, but the reality that we are eating more, moving less and drinking more is no joke.
With coronavirus vaccines on the horizon, people are seeing 2021 as a reset button to get back to good health and focus on prevention and wellness. Technology will increasingly play a part in people’s wellness activities, from televisits to wearable technology to monitor health even as people feel more comfortable leaving the house to see physicians for wellness checkups and for follow-ups for chronic conditions.
Another trend is that people are definitely much more open about discussing “uncomfortable” health subjects than ever before, notes Greg Buller, chairman of medicine and associate CMO at Yale New Haven Health-Bridgeport Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine at Yale. “Part of this is societal, and part is due to the emphasis more recently placed on training physicians as students and residents to engage patients in such discussions,” he said. “This includes not only things like sexual orientation — and health issues unique to individual groups — but also substance use disorders, genitourinary issues (like urinary incontinence and prostate issues) and colon/bowel health.”
Long stigmatized, mental health is more normalized, so people who are struggling now feel comfortable seeking help and that it’s OK to say you are not OK. Dr. Charles Herrick, Nuvance Health’s network chair of psychiatry, based out of Danbury Hospital, predicts mental health outreach will be a big trend in 2021.
“I think the challenges everyone has been facing have really led to a dramatic increase in outreach for mental health support,” he said. “I just know so many people who are really in need of that kind of support that previously would not be thinking about it or calling upon it. What COVID-19 has demonstrated — more than the idea of infectious disease and being contagious — is the idea that there’s almost this social contagion that has occurred as a result that is far more dramatic. This social contagion takes the form of anxiety and depression and part of it is through social media, which adds fuel to the fire of feeling anxious and overwhelmed but also the isolation that occurs as well.”
While continuing to offer virtual programs, gyms are doing their part to woo people back into feeling comfortable with in-person workouts. “The pandemic has upended how health and fitness clubs operate and magnified the necessity to provide a clean and safe space for members,” said Brent Darden, interim president and CEO of IHRSA, a trade association for health clubs, which is promoting its Active & Safe Commitment for the global fitness industry to demonstrate that health and fitness clubs are operating with best practices regarding sanitization and contact tracing.
Good nutrition and health go hand in hand and Lauren Timmerman, clinical nutrition manager at Norwalk Hospital, said the plant-based movement that started to take off this year will be even bigger in 2021. “Aside from oat milk and meat alternatives, I see a lot of people using AI-created foods, which is really cool,” she said. Companies like Perfect Day and NotCo use proprietary artificial intelligence and algorithms to mimic animal-based foods with plant-based ingredients. Plant-based milks and dairy products, made without animal proteins, offer a vegan substitute for the real thing.
Non-traditional ingredients and foods will also be trending. “Kelp is the new kale and you can add it to smoothies, broth and sauces,” Timmerman said. “It’s very nutritious and high in iodine, which usually isn’t found in most plants, but in fish and dairy.” Besides hummus and chickpea pasta, companies are using chickpeas to create tofu, cereals and even frozen desserts that are high in protein and fiber. “What is also really interesting is I see people using aquafaba [the thick liquid that comes from soaking/cooking legumes and found in canned chickpeas] as an egg alternative. You can even whip them into a stiff peak that would look like a meringue.”
While trends are interesting, Timmerman also notes that the basics are the basics for a reason. “I know this sounds like a broken record but focus on water and fiber. Make sure you stay hydrated during the day and your fiber will be your fruits and vegetables,” she said, which she notes is important to maintain a healthy gut. A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system. “Aim to fill at least half of your plate with different colored fruits and vegetables. Each different color of fruits and vegetables correlates with different antioxidants that they contain. Having a variety of colors means more nutrients that you’re able to get in your diet.”