‘Kelp is the new kale,’ virtual fitness and a renewed mental health focus are

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…

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