2018 health trends: a back-to-basics theme


Fitness and health trends come and go so fast it’s hard to keep up.

Since the 1980s we’ve had Jazzercise and Tae Bo, Jane Fonda’s workout video and “Buns of Steel,” Pilates and pole dancing, plus the emergence of CrossFit, Zumba and wearable technology. Today, that device on your wrist can count your steps and calories, monitor your heart rate, measure your sleep and map your daily run.

We have evolved from “fat is evil” to “eat good fats,” been pitched specialty diets (Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach), discovered kale and quinoa, and become warriors against obesity.

This year has been more of the same, but with more of a back-to-basics theme. In speaking with five San Diegans with years of experience in the wellness, health and fitness fields about the biggest trends in those areas in 2017, several pointed to simple ideas: the value of rest and recovery, mindfulness, growing consumer savvy, stress management and adopting a mind-body approach to good health.

The most notable trends they’ve seen this year:

The integrative approach

Dr. Lee Rice is the co-founder and CEO of the Lifewellness Institute in San Diego and has decades in sports and family medicine. This year, he’s seen more people adopt a holistic approach to managing their lives rather than one based on the latest workout regimen or diet.

“There’s good, hard scientific evidence that shows us that the basics of diet and exercise and sleep and recovery and stress reduction and relationships, all those things are not only what keep us physically and psychologically fit, but those same things are the very best things we can do to prevent chronic disease and to maximize immune system response, to decrease inflammation and prevent premature aging,” he says.

In this approach, strength, aerobic capacity and general fitness are important, but must be in concert with rest, stress management, eating healthy food and having friends and interests.

Rice says that integrative process has shown it’s the path to combat the effects of age and chronic disease. He points to senior athletes who’ve lived that type of life and torn up what we believed about old age.

“They’ve taught us a whole new concept … of how much less deterioration there needs to be and how much more functionality there can be both mentally and physically if you just pay attention and make good choices.”

Consumer savvy

There’s a lot of easy-to-get information about food, but people haven’t always cared to find it (or heed it). This year, Tara Coleman, a longtime clinical nutritionist in San Diego, has seen that change.

“I think the consumer has gotten more savvy,” she says. “I think people are taking an interest in their health and taking an interest in nutrition and also demanding it at a better price.”

Eating healthy has sometimes been more costly, but she believes consumer demand for nutritious food has driven the market to react, pointing to the popularity of Thrive Market, an online retailer founded two years ago that offers organic and natural food at what it bills as discount prices, and other stores.

She’s spoken with more people this year who buy fresh rather than processed food, check ingredient labels on packages and calorie listings at restaurants.

“People have embraced the concept of getting things with ingredients they understand,” she says. “It’s become a widespread concept. They don’t want weird names on their ingredient list.”

She also sees a growing understanding that good fats are necessary, especially from nuts and fruits, and that plant-based proteins are a way to help our diets and the environment if people want a substitute for meat. More restaurants and grocery stores in 2017 are offering those alternatives.

“You can have a really gorgeous plant-based meal, and it’s OK if you go have a burger the next day,” she says. “You can have the best of both worlds.”

Better together

Getting fit is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be long and boring. So, the popular trend in workouts this year has been high-intensity, circuit-based training, says Pete McCall with the American Council on Exercise. He’s a longtime certified personal trainer, writer and teacher who lives in Encinitas.

People can come together, share the experience and push themselves through what can be a fun (if sweaty and challenging) fast-paced circuit of different exercises, he says. McCall notes that the Orangetheory chain of gyms is one of the fastest-growing this year because of its brand of circuit training (in which each participant wears a heart monitor with the object of staying in the “orange zone” of effort).

Other gyms and fitness bootcamps employ the same type of workouts. McCall says it gets results, so it’s attractive.

“It’s a little bit of strength training, a little bit of cardio training, and as a result, a kind of combination of flexibility training,” he says. “It’s an integrated program because you’re doing a number of different things at once, not just one specific type of exercise.”

Another trend McCall noticed is the interest in rest and recovery as part of an overall health plan.

“Sleep and the benefits of sleep, that really exploded over the past year,” he says. “I’d get more questions about ‘how much should I be sleeping?’ and ‘what role does sleep play?’” he says. “The awareness is raised.”

Community awareness

Seven years ago, the Live Well San Diego initiative was adopted by the county Board of Supervisors. Its goals were to help residents live healthier lives, make neighborhoods safer and create a higher quality of life.

In 2017, the program saw a large growth in participation, says Nick Macchione, the director and deputy chief administrator of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. The program combines county, city, business, education and nonprofit resources to spread information about the value of behavioral and diet changes and exercise, along with the dangers of smoking. It holds an annual countywide blood-pressure screening event called Love Your Heart around Valentine’s Day that attracted a record 53,000 participants in 2017 (it started with 1,000 in 2010). Live Well San Diego also has an outreach program to local school districts about childhood obesity. And, when it held its second annual Live Well conference this year, it attracted 1,000 community partners, up from 750 in 2016. All those partners offer some kind of wellness program for their employees.

“The trend is the collective impact,” says Macchione. “It can’t fall just to the white coats, the docs, who play a critical role, but it’s everyone else throughout the community that can shape and improve the health status, the health and well-being of San Diegans.”

Macchione noted that 77 people were identified in the blood-pressure screenings as having urgent or emerging issues that needed to be addressed immediately. By providing such services and helping to educate the public, he sees “a collective impact.”

“It’s trying to mobilize the public to take a role in their health,” he says.

Finding mindfulness

In a digital age, with smartphones, apps, constant connectivity to work, phone calls, noise and distraction — all while negotiating a newsy year that’s helped elevate stress levels — people’s hectic lives have been as busy (or busier) than ever in 2017.

Because of that, Alexia Cervantes saw more people seek calm.

“I’m definitely seeing a lot more practice of mindfulness as it applies to everyday life,” says Cervantes, the director of FitLife at UC San Diego and the CEO of FitCon, a fitness education conference for collegiate fitness professionals.

Mindfulness essentially is a focus on the here and now, while tuning out distractions. It’s being fully involved with your loved ones at home, instead of constantly tuned in to Twitter, work email and friends on Snapchat. It’s a way to counter “FOMO,” fear of missing out.

“(It’s) how bringing a little more attention and mindfulness to everyday activities can bring you more focus, help you to be less distracted. I see that popping up a lot more. I see it gaining traction with folks in every age group and every physical condition.”

She sees it as a reaction to our “distracted society” and a way to pay attention to what’s really important.

Williams is a San Diego freelance writer.