These days technology can get a bad rap. It is often blamed for many of life’s minor complaints, such as eye strain from staring at screens, sore thumbs from texting, and anxiety or depression due to fear of missing out (FOMO) brought on by social media.
But emerging trends indicate that new innovations in technology may actually hold the key to improving our health, happiness and productivity, taking ‘wellness’ to a whole new level.
We have entered the age of the ‘global experience economy’, where people are looking beyond a product or service and demanding an experience. New technologies and innovations continue to alter our expectations, and now we don’t just want experiences, we expect them to be memorable and impactful, enhancing our lives and ushering in the rise of ‘integrated wellness’.
Integrated wellness is a new market with the potential to disrupt whole industries if ignored. It is the use of smart technologies, cognitive systems, and sustainability to create experiences and environments that silently and unobtrusively track, measure and improve wellbeing. Introducing integrated wellness into the places we live, work, and play means that we are entering a future where buildings, companies, and brands alike will have public ‘wellness’ scores, thus giving people the ability to make more informed choices about where they live and work and the brands they buy and support.
In the last few years the adoption of social apps and fitness wearables have set the pace for this new demand for increased wellness in our lives. Approximately 60 per cent of mobile phone users are already using health-related apps on their phones, and fitness-tracking wearables are expected to exceed $14bn by 2021.
In the workplace, apps like ShapeUp Mobile target professionals, introducing ‘social wellness’ solutions that allow you to participate in team challenges with your colleagues, as well as track daily activities. By 2018 it is predicted that more than 13 million activity trackers will be used inside the workplace as part of employee wellness programmes.
Besides physical data collected from wearables, emotional data can also be used to offer us greater insight into our mental wellbeing. Biometrics, including heart rate and blood pressure, can allow us to gauge the true emotions of a group or an individual. Sensum, an emotion-based software company, uses wearables to collect and measure emotional data to gain insights into subconscious reactions, while eye-tracking technology can help to analyse gaze patterns for deeper insights into cognitive processes.
Faceteq is a facial sensing platform made by Emteq that uses virtual reality headsets measuring emotions through facial gestures and biometric responses. And virtual reality company The Mill is now using biometrics in a platform called Strata to create generative environments in a virtual, immersive world. ‘VR therapy’ can even be used to cure neurological diseases like chronic pain, burns, and stress.
While employers may have the best intentions for integrating wellness technologies and solutions into their workforce, they should also be aware that this implementation has the potential to backfire. With the chance that personal employee data could be exposed or exploited, new questions rise around privacy, data security and workers’ rights. Instead of bringing people together they could instead create the ‘big brother’ effect, resulting in mistrust or paranoia.
Alternatively, wellness can be integrated through design. Wellness pods are small, hanging or freestanding environments that use technology to de-stress the mind and body to improve cognition and performance. New companies — such as the innovative start-up Naked Scent — fuse behavioural intelligence, neuroscience and sensory expertise with technology to create emotions-based, sensory-driven design solutions.
By engaging multiple senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, visual, movement, position) they are able to combat the physical effects of stress while measurably replenishing the brain. Stress is blamed for 54 per cent of fights between colleagues and loved ones, and elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) is linked to impaired learning, focus and decision-making, meaning wellness pods have the potential to deliver ‘real’ and measurable results. Naked Scents’ Kokon integrates tactile walls, binaural beats, music therapy, appeasing aromas and breathing lights.
Taking design a step further, we find that the bigger picture of integrated wellness starts with smarter buildings and smarter cities. Delos, a world-leader in ‘wellness real-estate’ envisions a future where our environments actively contribute to our wellbeing, merging science and technology with design and construction to reinvent the role of environment on our health.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a long-time advocate of green solutions, is an investor in Delos’s ‘wellness apartments’, which founder Paul D. Scialla describes as being “like a 24-hour carwash that works on the human body”. Featured amenities of these environments include vitamin C infused showers, purified air and water, herbariums, ergonomic furniture, lighting design based on circadian rhythm, and posture-supportive flooring.
With people spending approximately 90 per cent of their time inside buildings, some experts believe that the measurability of integrated wellness could result in significant return on investment. The International Well Building Institute in America has even created a certification programme, Well, a rating tool that aims to give a single public wellness score to buildings based on things like air and water quality, carbon emissions, and sustainability. By introducing this certification they hope it will put health and wellness at the centre of design, construction and city-planning decisions.
When environmental monitoring information becomes public facing and easily accessed through the phones in peoples’ pockets, not only will developers and community planners have to up their game to retain tenants, but brands will be affected as well. People won’t want to live and work in places deemed unhealthy, and they won’t want to shop brands that are polluting the environment.
Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO and founder of Pavegen – floor tiles that generate electricity by harnessing the power of footsteps – believes that businesses should embrace this new era of integrated wellness and leverage it to connect with consumers.
He posited the idea that you could go to a store to buy shoes and get money off your purchase because you’ve been generating energy for the said store.
In line with this, people could start to think of their steps almost like ‘a vote’ to show favour or loyalty towards a brand or location.
By combining smart technologies and data insights to create innovative integrated wellness solutions in our lives, work and society, we begin to a see a future that uses technology as a means to address human sustainability.
With innovation continuing to alter expectations, and new technologies continuing to emerge and evolve at an unprecedented pace, one thing we can rely on to never change is the human need to not just survive, but to thrive.
By integrating wellness solutions into our daily rituals, designs and environments now, businesses stand to gain a significant advantage over their competition, while people stand to lead lives that are healthier and happier than ever before.
Amelia Kallman is head of innovation at Engage Works