The Wellness Protagonists embody these four key macrotrends:
Accelerating the movement toward self-care and healthcare consumerization
Embracing a virtual, digital approach to managing their health
Driving demand towards next-generation healthcare delivery models
Innovating on products and services that modernize wellbeing
While the pandemic evoked a universal focus on wellness, Wellness Protagonists are those who took it to the next level and used every new and existing technology to enhance the full spectrum of their wellbeing. Their behaviors will permanently alter our understanding of healthcare and encourage society to integrate self-care into daily life.
They kept their gym clothes sweaty, got to know their doctors, downloaded apps to track their progress, and added anything and everything to their shopping cart that might support their path to an ideal state of wellbeing. But the Protagonists look like average people, and some were even prior couch potatoes. What defines them is not that they’re chiseled fitness fanatics, but rather that they’re taking the reins of their own holistic wellbeing, and will drive demand toward an emerging ecosystem of providers prepared to help them do just that.
As the world continues to migrate towards self-care, Wellness Protagonists will ensure it retains its place in our global consciousness and will push the boundaries of what it means to feel nurtured on every level.
The pandemic gifted many with a luxury rarely experienced in our modern culture: an opportunity to reevaluate our lifestyles. Wellness Protagonists decided self-care was no longer an optional interest but a key component of their lives. They don't focus on near-term goals like New Year's resolutions or a beach body. They have negotiated flexibility with their employers and crafted routines that make them feel better and might help them stick around a little longer, too. Now in the driver's seat, they stay ahead of the curve, preventing instead of reacting and constantly monitoring their wearables and dashboards to ensure they're in top shape. Newcomers to the health-first lifestyle, the immense effort they put into learning the ropes makes them all the more determined — and all the more critical to the future of care.
“Before Covid, I would go to the doctor for a yearly check-up. There were never any red flags, so I didn't pay that much attention to anything I was doing—how I was eating or exercising. But when I started hearing about younger, healthier people getting sick and going to the hospital, it was a wake-up call. I realized how much I had been eating at restaurants, how winded I got walking up a few flights of stairs. I also felt a spike in my anxiety during lockdown, and I knew I didn't want to manage it with pills. So I started learning to meditate and practicing breathwork. I feel better than I have in years now that I'm more engaged with how I treat myself. I'm not exactly a spring chicken anymore, and if I want to stick around for a while, I know I need to work on my habits continuously.”
Balance is at the soul of the Wellness Protagonist’s approach, but maintaining this homeostasis is no simple feat. Aware that they aren’t the traditional health enthusiast, Wellness Protagonists have had to engineer a distinct approach to compensate for their lack of experience and to sustain their new habits — one filled with cues, reminders, and encouragement. Content on wellbeing fills their social media feeds. Their favorite instructor is incorporated into the middle of their workday calendar and their doctor is on speed dial in case they need something before their quarterly checkup. Supplements specialized for their body type are next to their Bluetooth-enabled water bottle. They seek support from their mutual interest community and flexibility from their employers. The majority have spent most of their lives largely unconcerned about their health, but outdoing the pre-Covid version of themselves is the quintessential goal for Wellness Protagonists.
“I started exercising much more often once I realized how easy it is to do in my living room. And I signed up for a virtual mindfulness course to help me manage stress.”
Backpacks, chairs, and bungee cords, anyone? New approaches to fitness became infinitely more accessible at home overnight as studios clamored to retain their members, posting free home workouts complete with creative equipment substitutions. An overwhelming 89% of Wellness Protagonists exercise regularly, more than twice as much as the general population, and they are more than six times as likely to utilize a virtual service. Smart tech like TVs, earbuds, and other various equipment fitted with motion sensor personal trainers popped onto the market during Covid. Nearly three-quarters of Wellness Protagonists have now invested in long-term home workout equipment, and as gyms have reopened, 76% have at least one studio or digital membership. Whatever way they’ve chosen to exercise, Wellness Protagonists have discovered what works best for them, increasing the likelihood that their combined approach to exercise will become a life-long habit.
“I like my doctor, especially because his office makes telemedicine visits easy.”
No ailment goes unchecked. Armed with the internet, Wellness Protagonists never come empty-handed and expect a two-way dialogue with their physicians. They see their doctors regularly, at higher rates than the general population, but the true differentiators are how they feel about digital healthcare and their comprehensive objectives. Embracing the mass adoption of telehealth, they are twice as likely to prefer managing their health with digital tools rather than going to the doctor. They no longer see doctors as emergency care — professionals to enlist only when something has gone off the rails. They view themselves and their doctors as a team, with their long-term health the shared goal. This has implications for the trajectory of the physician-patient relationships and the entire healthcare delivery model, as the Protagonists require more flexible and more frequent interactions with their providers focused on preventative care.
“I tried therapy on a whim because I saw a cheap deal for online sessions and never stopped going. I didn’t think I had problems, but it’s amazing for my mental health.”
Mental health is a significant piece of the puzzle for Wellness Protagonists. They have become acutely aware of what impacts their state of mind and how — from their jobs to their relationships to how they engage with the endless news cycle. Their proactive attitude and the general destigmatization of therapy and mental illness have encouraged them to seek treatment five times more than the general population, despite 60% of Protagonists in therapy reporting they haven’t dealt with a significant mental health issue within the past two years. Barriers to care could be deterring some, with many therapy-goers opting for cheaper, more accessible online therapy. They also go above and beyond — aside from therapy, half practice some form of mindfulness or meditation routine.
“I measure everything now. What I eat, how much I sleep, my mood. It helps me know when something’s off that I should address.”
In the classic Wellness Protagonist holistic approach, they aren’t only monitoring the state of their physical and mental health, but other influences on wellbeing such as finances, habits, and time management. At least one-third of the Protagonists measure and monitor all aspects of their wellbeing, with over 60% of Protagonists saying it keeps them motivated. This amount of self-collected data has never been seen before, and they want even more tailored, detailed insights, with 58% willing to share their data in exchange. Expanded adoption of these tracking behaviors could significantly boost health outcomes if communicated with care providers.
"I love trying new things, but before buying anything, I ask, 'Is this good for me?'"
The Wellness Protagonists' economic diversity juxtaposed with the group's spending habits is an indication of increased accessibility in the wellness space. Their health-first purchasing behavior extends far beyond groceries and all-natural products into products like smart clothing and nootropics, as well as alternative medicine such acupuncture and energy healing. Seventy-one percent have tried at least one avant-garde concept like utilizing blood tests to create an optimized diet, compared to just 33% of the general population. If it has the potential to enhance their wellbeing, Wellness Protagonists will be first in line.
“It's not nearly as hard as it used to be to make healthy choices about what to eat, drink, or even wear. Everything you choose to engage with affects your health somehow, so it makes sense to seriously consider the impact of what you buy on your wellbeing. I'm always testing out new products, and I think the health aspects of what I consume will continue to be an important part of making decisions in the future. When a company makes products focused on health, I trust them more. It feels like they're thinking about what people need and what will benefit them.”
Health-first lifestyles are no longer exclusively the domain of those with a certain income, appearance, or background. With Covid (and long Covid) set to affect public health outcomes for years, the pressure to prioritize wellness will compound. The diversity and magnitude of Wellness Protagonists demonstrate how popular it is to just want to feel better. This forecasts larger demand for fitness products, mental health services, and nutrient-fortified groceries in addition to opportunity for platforms that sync these offerings to smartphones. Organizations — from governments to businesses — that provide holistic and personalized health solutions will capture the attention of this community and their market potential. Wellness is no longer for those who can afford it, wellness is for everyone.
They are demanding more—calling for healthcare fit for the 21st century.
Wellness Protagonists present significant market opportunities, but perhaps their most considerable impact will be modernizing the healthcare system. The pandemic showed just how quickly we can make strides within care delivery, and the growing legion of Protagonists will push for accessible, personalized, and preventative care that reflects modern advancements.
The Wellness Protagonists are paving the way for:
- Convenient, streamlined care. Calling to make an appointment is antiquated. Online scheduling, flexible visits, and minimized wait times are achievable and will become necessary as people seek more care more often. With Protagonists seeking physicians at significantly higher rates, the over-usage of multi-channel care can increase costs and strap capacity for providers. Delivery models may need to evolve and allocate specific channels for benign interactions while reserving others for more complex issues.
- Data that talks. Healthcare has become significantly more digital, yet there is a massive lack of integration. Healthcare communication mainly occurs via phone calls and fax despite each party having an electronic portal. Protagonists have an historical amount of daily health data available at their fingertips, yet this data cannot link to their care team. Putting this breadth of data in the hands of practitioners could substantially improve care outcomes, especially for those who may not be able to recall or relay relevant issues.
- Human-centered holism. Expectations for physicians go beyond physical ailments. Wellness Protagonists want all factors of their life considered in medical decisions, not just what meets the eye. This can present challenges, as many doctors have become increasingly specialized and don’t provide a holistic view. Holistic doctors have been steadily increasing in popularity, but it can be difficult for patients to differentiate between credible medical professionals and those who claim to be able to help. Protagonists no longer aim to find a band-aid for their symptoms—they want to root out the cause.
- Mental health maintenance. Still fighting stigma, mental health issues have long been taboo. The Wellness Protagonist’s distinctly higher rates of therapy attendance suggest growing demand for therapy services. However, some therapy-goers are not treating any specific disorder, as Protagonists feel mental health is always relevant for everyone. Mental health is a factor in their relationships, jobs, and even their purchases because they ask, “How does this really make me feel?”
As Wellness Protagonists continue to mold the future of healthcare:
- How will you incorporate the modernized consumer expectations of wellbeing into your value proposition?
- What expectations should employers have for caregivers, particularly health insurers, in an increasingly digitized world?
- With the advent of tools and techniques for the "quantified self," what is the patient-physician relationship becoming, and what does this mean for payor and provider strategies in the healthcare space?