I find the WIKIPEDIA entry for “Wellness” so curious. It reads: “Wellness (alternative medicine). Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being.” That seems a very fundamental idea–encompassing a person’s total health–and yet it’s branded as “alternative.” Makes one wonder what the alternative to a “healthy balance” is.
We live in abundant times medically, Western or otherwise, and it’s inarguable that technology has had a profound effect on consumers who are now able to access medical information of the traditional variety as well as within the wellness sphere with a few clicks of a keyboard or smartphone. Technology has made us more informed patients, and proactive in our preventative care. To think, just a few years ago, most people’s assessments of wellness came once a year at their physical! Now, we can track our progress through a variety of digital devices that count steps, monitor medication, and track sleep patterns, among other things. Everyone is looking for information, a holistic alternative, a leg up, a new experience, and sometimes a quick fix.
The medical profession, retail pharmacists, employers, educators and health advocates are responding in a variety of ways to empower consumers. One result is that CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) and Integrative Medicine (IM) have been making their way into major hospitals and teaching institutions since the early 2000s. While IM draws a very sharp distinction between itself and CAM these two camps embrace some of the same alternative modalities such as Yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage therapies and herbal remedies, to name a few. IM makes the distinction of using only proven practices based in science.
Consumers are taking good health into their own hands with great enthusiasm, sometimes for better or worse. The good news is there is a plethora of choices for the adventurous or simply the health conscious. The internet is rife with bad information, pseudo-science, expensive supplements (how do you know what’s in them?), innumerable diets, and MoonDust, but along with the questionable, fun, interesting and informative pursuits are available as well to enrich our minds, bodies and spirits. The response across diverse industries indicates the mainstreaming of wellness.
The travel industry has responded with everything from wellness hotels and voluntourism, to yoga and walking tracks at airports. Spas abound, with locations as classic as Golden Door, or as exotic as Ananda In the Himalayas. Progressive consumers often drive the trends, and wellness is a new status symbol.
Technology and healthcare leaders have also capitalized on the wellness trend. In recent years at The International Consumer Electronics show (CES), the yearly extravaganza of everything new in drones, TVs, virtual reality headsets, robots and dozens of other concepts, an increasing amount of square footage has been devoted to the health and wellness sector. This includes not only companies like FitBit and Garmin, but UnitedHealthcare, a company vested in how the intersection of health and technology may empower people to take greater control of their everyday health. In 2017, UnitedHealth showcased mobile applications and health technology products and services meant to provide better tools for bring information to consumers across the platforms they’re becoming accustomed to.
On a more practical scale, some forward thinkers have given a boost to public wellness through policy or investment in healthful initiatives in the last decade. Our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, was a great proponent of healthy lifestyle for both children and adults. She brought much needed attention to childhood obesity, food labeling, exercise and more. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council has enacted one of the most progressive food policy in the nation, adopted by both the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where it’s becoming a model for the rest of the country. The goal is to build a Good Food system for all Los Angeles residents — where food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable. Another interesting initiative is an experiment devised by the tech investor Esther Dyson, called the Way to Wellville,wherein five communities around the country have committed to a multi-year, strategic, customized experiment to improve the health of their citizens.
The truth is, that no amount of organic food, nor taking a thousand more steps, aromatherapy, mindfulness, aspirin or acupuncture can guarantee longevity, but good choices can contribute to our quality of life.
What would it look like if good, healthy habits began early for everyone, and healthy food and lifestyle choices were status quo and available and affordable to all? To me, it looks like the world I want to live in.