Why is the world obsessed with wellness?

The global wellness industry is reportedly worth a staggering $3.7 trillion* and is fast increasing. Providing 3.2 million jobs a year and constituting 2.1% of the world’s economy, this is serious business. But why has the world become so obsessed with wellness? Kelly Tyler investigates.

*Statistics from the Global Wellness Institute

With people living faster lives, smartphone addiction at an all-time high, and mental health firm on the government’s agenda, now, more than ever, there is a need to look after our mental – as well as – physical health.

But switching off and tuning into wellness, or “the state of being in good health”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is not a new phenomenon.

The origins of looking after one’s self date back to as early as 3,000 BC when Ayurveda – the holistic system of creating harmony between body, mind and spirit – was ritually practised in India.

Fast forward to 2017 and the world is buzzing with the concept of wellness. From self-help mental wellness apps and resorts bringing in doctors to design specialist sleep packages for guests, to multinational companies, such as Google, introducing workplace health and wellbeing programmes for its employees, wellness is no longer a term used solely by yoga teachers.

So, why are people now so dedicated to looking after their wellbeing?

“Because we can’t afford for the world to be ill as people are living longer,” says Dr Sarah Rawlinson, Head of the Department of Hospitality, Resort and Spa Management at the University of Derby.

“Companies are investing in health and wellbeing to cut the number of absentees at work.

“People are getting wiser; they don’t want to spend their hard earned money on their future nursing home costs, they want to spend it living long, fruitful lives.”

The shift in people taking wellbeing seriously is something that can also be seen through their motivations for holidaying, says Dr Rawlinson.

“In past generations, people would go on holiday to discover new places and let their hair down. Now they use time away to destress, have ‘me time’, and connect with their family. People are wanting something to take away from a destination to help heal them and holiday resorts are now having to adapt to that change in tourism.”

The global wellness tourism industry has seen an impressive spike in revenue over the years, growing 14% from $494.1 billion in 2013 to $563.2 billion in 2015 – a growth rate more than twice as fast as overall tourism expenditures (6.9%)*.

The latest figures show world travellers made 691 million wellness trips in 2015 – 104.4 million more than in 2013* – proving this is far more than just marketing hype.

And there are five regions across the globe so in tune with adopting tenets of wellness they have been coined Blue Zones – places in the world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth.

Adventurer and author Dan Buettner discovered these ‘Blue Zones’: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California – all of which have nine common denominators that lead to a fruitful life.

So attracted to the secrets of living longer, many places are now attempting to become artificial Blue Zones, such as the USA and the Netherlands, where workplace absenteeism and healthcare costs have been reduced.

And Dr Rawlinson thinks Buxton – a historic spa town and home to one of the University of Derby campuses – could become one of these.

“Buxton is one of only two places in the UK that has thermal spa waters,” she explains.

“Years ago people would travel there to bathe in the healing minerals and would be prescribed to take walks in the local countryside. Buxton was a fashionable spa resort and was known as a centre for rheumatology.

“Work is being carried out to improve Buxton as a leading spa resort and the redevelopment of the Crescent into a five-star hotel with the latest spa services will certainly help this.

“The vision of Buxton becoming a Blue Zone could be achieved if we all work together and take responsibility for our wellbeing, boosting economic impact and tourism.

“We cannot sit back; we have to capitalise on the growing demand for people wanting time away to help their wellbeing.”

Wellness Management

So certain wellness is here to stay, the University of Derby has created the UK’s first Wellness Management Degree to train people to become the new generation of professionals who can lead the wellness industry to its next stage of evolution.

But despite its popularity, is wellness something that is truly understood and adopted by the masses?

Matt Lund, Executive Director for the National Wellness Institute, based in the USA in Stevens Point, Wisconsin – an organisation which works with professionals to promote inclusive, diversified whole-person wellness – says further work is needed to help raise the awareness of wellness.

“If you ask 10 different people what wellness means, you will get 10 different answers,” explains Matt.

“Is it meditation? Going to the gym or taking a swim? Yes, but not always the case. We tell them, it is so much more than just that.

“While many people across the world are becoming more familiar with wellness, we really need to be able to express and explain what wellness is. One of the key issues is that when we grow up we adopt certain cultures, so it’s not just about getting people to start thinking about wellness, but changing behaviour.

“If you look at the USA, we are getting unhealthier, even with all the research that has been done. We are looking at what we can do to slow or stop unhealthy lifestyles like depression, obesity and the opioid epidemic, and get people to look at their wellbeing differently.”

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Six dimensions of wellness

Similar to the nine Blue Zones principles, the National Wellness Institute, founded in 1977, focuses on six dimensions of wellness; organisation, physical, social, spiritual, emotional and intellectual.

“If you can balance these areas you will live a much happier and healthier life,” explains Matt.

“However, you cannot tell people to get into wellness and expect it to just happen. When you tell people what to do, it’s natural for there to be resistance. You must help people where they are in their journey, so they can progress and become well when they are ready to make life changes. Once we do this, we will see our cultures flourish and thrive.”

But could adopting such a mindfulness lifestyle be, in actual fact, bad for your health?

William Van Gordon, a University of Derby Online Learning lecturer, who was a Buddhist monk for 10 years, has conducted research into whether there are adverse effects associated with mindfulness and wellness.

“Despite its growing popularity, there is concern and uncertainty as to whether there are health risks. Such concerns form part of what has been termed the ‘mindfulness backlash’ or the ‘Mc Mindfulness’ movement that has involved ongoing debate in the press.”

Tuning into mindfulness and adopting meditation practices have been reported to have caused panic attacks and psychotic episodes as it encourages people to reflect on the past, focusing on both positive and negative aspects of their lives.

Five top wellness tips from William Van Gordon:

  1. Try to be aware of each moment of your life because no two experiences are the same.
  2. Understand that you are interconnected with all other phenomena and that you breathe in others’ out-breath and they breathe out your in-breath.
  3. Be sincere and appreciative but at the same time let go because nothing lasts forever.
  4. Be loving and compassionate because, in addition to benefiting others, it will help to put your own difficulties in perspective.
  5. Be cautious about quick-fix remedies and remember that lasting happiness comes from within.

But William says despite the research, it remains unclear whether there are circumstances in which mindfulness can be bad for your health.

“There is clearly a need for future research to specifically investigate the conditions under which mindfulness may incur negative health outcomes.

“I think the potential harmful issue of mindfulness is because it’s become so popular, so quickly. Mindfulness has been practiced in the East for thousands of years but has only been introduced to the West during the last few decades.

“Risk arises not because mindfulness is itself harmful but because some individuals teaching mindfulness have not had the correct training.

“People want to be so well they are trying too hard to achieve it, which goes against what the practice is. Wellness has to come from within.”

What is clear is that wellness is a big deal. As stated in the Global Wellness Institute’s report on the top wellness trends of 2017, “mental wellness will be the biggest future trend, period.”

And with more than 13 million posts on Instagram, #wellness – endorsed by celebrities, health advisors, teachers, schools and workplaces – does not look like it’s going anywhere soon.

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