Excuse us for stating the painfully obvious, but 2020 has been an extraordinary year. Covid-19 has turned everything inside out and upside down, including attitudes to fitness and wellbeing. Widespread vaccination is now within reach and the restoration of normality is at last more than just a vain hope. So as we head into a new year, what are the new habits and fitness trends we can expect to see?
Virtual fitness is here to stay
Moving online allowed gyms and exercise studios to keep going during the worst times of the pandemic. The appeal of working out in this way soon became apparent; no need to commute to a gym or workout space, reduced cost of classes in most cases and great flexibility. Clients could work out to a prerecorded session at a time that suited them. They could try out any number of different exercise styles from around the world, all from their own living room.
In Germany, for example, 11.6 million people were members of a gym in 2019. In 2020, more than a million cancelled their membership
Class Pass, which analyzes trends in more than 30,000 fitness establishments, reports that digital exercising via apps will not only continue, but actually increase in 2021.
Snack-sized workouts of half an hour or less are increasingly popular as people juggle child care, online schooling and working from home. Shorter sessions are also popular with people who are hesitant about trying out virtual workouts. It’s easier to carve out 20 to 30 minutes without getting distracted or too bored. And of course, short workouts are ideal for anyone who feels burned out or depleted – which is to say, just about everyone.
According to one survey, almost 50 percent of people who exercise will forsake the gym in 2021 in favor of outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and walking as their primary mode of exercising.
As well as being low-cost (no special equipment needed and if you have to buy a bike, it’s a one-time rather than a monthly expense), being out in the fresh air feels both more pleasant and safer than being cooped up inside a sweaty gym or the confines of your apartment.
Some companies have taken note and moved their gyms outside. In the UAE, this may only be a feasible option outside the humid summer months but the popularity of groups such as At The Park and the new Corniche-area outdoor gym Strike.ae have shown that it does work.
Not everyone likes the one-size-fits-all approach to fitness, which is why boutique and micro studios are experiencing a boom.
Health and wellness are just as important to older people or those at greater risk from Covid-19 as to anyone else – probably even more so after the past year. Targeting a particular sector is also proving good business for the fitness industry, as people are apparently willing to pay a premium for a specialized, more tailored service. Niche exercise establishments will be wooing seniors with special offers and risk-free training sessions at home.
Merging fitness with sport
Why bother going to a gym (or paying the fees) when you can simply go for a jog around the park? Or play tennis or join a football/basketball/volleyball team? As the arrival of vaccines hopefully loosens the grip of the virus and restrictions on gatherings ease even more, team sports are likely to make a welcome return. As well as the fitness aspect, team sports offer much-needed social benefits.
Another counterpoint to the one-size-fits-all approach to fitness, biohacking involves making small, incremental changes that are minutely customized to your body by monitoring, among other things, pulse rate, heart rate, gut and microbiome health, testing for allergies and extensive testing for possible genetic susceptibilities.
Trackers that measure stress and anxiety levels are already available on the market, but 2021 is set to see a surge in fitness tracking using ever more precise science.
At the 2020 Global Wellness Summit, biohacking was named as one of the top six wellness trends for 2021.
The pandemic has brought the subject of mental health out into the open and not before about time. Experts predict more people will seek help and advice from therapists in 2021, both in person and online. At the very least, they predict more people will turn to meditation and mindfulness apps in their search for inner wellbeing.
Less body beautiful
The last year has shifted the emphasis from exercising to look good to exercising to feel good. Images of a fine physique have long been the favored marketing tool of the fitness industry but in 2020 the message has been about good health over good looks, and that is certain to continue in 2021.
Covid-19 has made us more touchy about, well, touching. Far fewer of us now feel totally comfortable getting a massage or a facial. Instead, expect a rise in non-touching services such as cryotherapy, salt caves, infrared saunas, hyperbaric chambers and flotation tanks.
Some of these may be new to most of us but don’t expect them to remain unknown as we search for safe ways to relax and decompress from stress.
Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword in 2020 but it should not be dismissed. Looking after your appearance is an important part of overall wellness. Any mental health specialist will tell you that one of the first things they note about a patient is whether they are well-groomed because not caring about how you look is one of the first and most obvious signs of depression.
However, instead of cramming the bathroom cupboard with every product on the market, experts predict we will adopt more stripped-down beauty and grooming routines.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.