The top 11 health and fitness trends in 2021
Even with many gyms still closed, these wellness trends are on our minds
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I associate January with the gym. The crowded, noisy gym, full of people who, like me, have resolved to get themselves moving in the new year. Now, I don’t expect to be returning to the gym any time soon—but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the same self-improvement impulse that grips me every winter. In 2021, we're anticipating a whole host of wellness trends that go way beyond losing weight or building muscle. Here are eleven of the top health and fitness trends we expect to see embraced in the coming year.
1. Prioritizing mental health
It’s no wonder that a year like 2020 left many of us thinking a little more carefully about how to protect our mental health. Many of us are seeking therapeutic or psychiatric care for the first time, while some of us are navigating new waters as we learn to take our appointments online. Even without a global pandemic to contend with, it’s becoming easier and easier to publicly talk about mental health and to find the support each of us need. This can mean a lot of different things for different people—talk therapy, behavioral therapy, or private meditation. If you’re looking for a secure online program where you can figure out if online therapy is right for you, you might want to check out Talkspace—one of the top-rated programs available for individual, virtual mental health care.
2. Improving sleep hygiene
Maintaining a routine and adequate sleep schedule is one of the best ways you can support your mental health—but experts say it also benefits health across the board, from preventing acne to bolstering your immune system. The pandemic has thrown a lot of wrenches at us, both practical and emotional, and it’s normal to see your sleeping habits suffer as a result. That’s exactly why it’s a good idea to take a survey of your sleep hygiene. Putting your phone away half an hour before bedtime, keeping work and stress out of your bedroom as far as possible, and getting some exercise during the day are all great steps toward a better night’s sleep—and eventually, to a better relationship with sleep altogether. We’re also big believers in making your bed itself as cozy as possible. To this end, we’ve tested out some of the very best mattresses, pillows, and bed linens to fit a variety of budgets and preferences. For immediate comfort that won’t break the bank, we recommend the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow, stuffed with shredded memory foam that provides an incredible plush place to lay your head.
3. Getting active at home
At-home exercise programs exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and it looks like they’re here to stay. There are practically unlimited ways to get moving in your own home, even without all the fancy equipment of a full-fledged home gym. Online yoga, HIIT workouts, dance, and resistance training—if you want to do it, you can probably find a way to do it at home (don’t quote me on that, skydivers and rock climbers). If you’d rather have a full plate of workouts to choose from, spanning loads of different kinds of movement, check out Obé Fitness. We found that Obé was fun, challenging, and strikingly personalized. If the relatively high price point is within your budget, we recommend taking it for a spin.
4. Self-pleasure as self-care
Self-pleasure isn’t exactly a new diversion (dare we say it’s one of the oldest), but experts are forecasting that in 2021, sensual me-time will be widely embraced by the mainstream wellness industry. This means more affordable toys for everybody and every body. We’re also seeing a great uptick in inclusivity, with wider attention being drawn to women-, Black-, and queer-owned businesses. If you’re getting a handle on socially distant or virtual intimacy, or just looking to spice things up after being stuck with your partner for months, it’s the perfect time to start expanding your repertoire.
We think super-popular, queer-owned Babeland is a great place to start browsing.
5. Trying plant-based protein
Even lifelong carnivores have been eating more plant-based foods lately. There might be a lot of reasons for this—environmental concerns, health, and affordability are just a few of the factors that have more and more people exploring different protein options. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that we are living in an amazing time for tasty, diverse, and widely available vegetarian food. If you’re interested in introducing more vegetarian meals into your diet but you’re not sure where to start, we think you’ll like Sun Basket—of all the best meal kits available now, we’re yet to find one that does such a great job with plant-based meals.
6. Experimenting with air-frying
We’ve seen air frying get HUGE over the past few years, and it looks like its popularity isn’t about to slow down. Air-frying is a method of turning out crispy treats without the excessive oil that comes from conventional frying. At their best, these nifty gadgets are easy to use, easy to clean, and reliable performers in the kitchen. Air-fryers don’t necessarily have to represent a huge investment of money, but they probably will represent a fair investment of counter space, so it’s best to pick one you know you’ll love. If you want the best of the best, we recommend the Philips Airfryer XXL—it’s not a budget option, but we think it’s the one most likely to keep your whole family happy.
7. Setting boundaries around digital wellness
I know I’m not the only one leaving 2020 feeling absolutely bamboozled by screen time. Between work, socialization, and entertainment, most of us have seen an uptick in screen time in one way or another. The upshot of this is that in general, we’ve never been more aware of the necessity of setting healthy boundaries around our digital lives—and there a lot of tools and resources out there to make doing so easier. I personally use the Digital Wellness settings on my Pixel phone heavily. I love that I can set goals for individual apps, and when I hit my time limit, my phone automatically makes that app inaccessible (I know from experience that a gentle nudge will not be enough to get me off my phone). If you don’t have similar settings on your phone, you can download ActionDash—a well-reviewed app that provides the same service on a wider range of devices.
8. Drying out
Maybe you’ve seen people online talking about #Dryuary, or maybe you’re taking on the challenge yourself. With so many of us looking for ways to bolster our mental health and immune systems, it’s no surprise the “sober curious” movement is gaining popularity. The idea behind this movement is that even a temporary reduction in alcohol intake is better for your health than drinking routinely. Cutting out alcohol for a limited period of time is, for many of us, an attainable way of watching out for our health and getting some perspective on our drinking. The process of going dry will look really different depending on your standard relationship to alcohol. As a social drinker who also likes to relax with a drink after work on occasion, I’ve found that the best way for me to satisfy the impulse to have a beer is by having another beverage on hand. Cracking open a seltzer after work is usually enough to satisfy me, so I know that when I drink, I’m doing so mindfully. As a diehard Polar seltzer girl, this variety pack is exactly what I need when I'm craving a cold one.
9. Tracking your stats
Holistic health isn’t just a numbers game, but tracking your data can give you important insight into how close you are to meeting your goals—especially if those goals involve weight gain or loss. Without enough information, it can feel like you’re working out endlessly and not seeing results. A scientifically-backed support program like Noom might be just what you need to close the gap between expectation and reality. Noom is a lifestyle app that promises to improve overall health by creating individualized plans to hit user goals. We’ve compared Noom to Weight Watchers, and tried out Noom ourselves. We think it’s a great option for people who appreciate a little extra encouragement (and don’t mind some potentially corny language).
10. Boosting your immune system
Getting into immune support is another natural conclusion to a long year trying to avoid a global virus. A lot of factors go into the efficacy of your immune system—eating well, getting exercise, prioritizing sleep, and moderating your alcohol and tobacco intake are all important steps. There’s not a clear consensus on whether daily supplements can actually aid your immune system, but getting enough fruits and veggies and keeping an eye on your health in general definitely can. If you struggle to eat enough leafy greens over the course of the day, you can always get them down first thing in the morning with a green smoothie (I absolutely promise they can be good). Get your hands on one of our favorite smoothie blenders—when it comes to taking in fiber and vitamins, smoothies are a much better bet than anything from even the trendiest juice bar.
11. Cooking at home
Maybe it’s just out of necessity, but it seems like everyone is learning to cook these days. And you know what? We love to see it. Cooking at home means you can actually keep track of what you’re putting in your body (yes, including that famously tricky sodium content), you can save a load of money, and you can impress guests with your culinary skills for the rest of your life. Personally, I love cooking because it feels like me time—a chance to clear my mind after a busy day and take care of myself and my loved ones. We’ve got you covered if you’re suffering from cooking fatigue, trying to upgrade your kitchen, or looking to polish your technique in the kitchen. If you’re really ready to advance to the next level, you can check out a Masterclass from Michelin-star chef Thomas Keller. For the average home chef, though, we don’t think there’s any beating a well-loved cookbook. My personal favorite is How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman’s kitchen bible that lives up to its lofty title.
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