Healthy habits: how digital has turned the world of fitness and wellbeing upside down.

Laura Dixon, Marketing Executive in London, UK
08 April 2021

The world of health, fitness and wellbeing was flipped upside down in 2020, when all the gym goers in the country were forced to swap the weight room for their living room, therapist offices became Zoom meetings and the healthcare industry went (to some degree) remote. As we emerge into the new normal, the question is: how these industries can get the best from digital beyond the pandemic? And how can they utilise what they’ve learned throughout last year and apply it to better serve their customers in the future? 

Digital healthcare: giving users access in a locked down world

The outbreak of COVID-19 undoubtedly accelerated the need for digital healthcare. The closure of gyms and mental health services over the last 12 months meant digital became the key channel to engage with customers – and survive this challenging period. But even before 2020, healthcare providers had begun to take advantage of the benefits of digital technology. The main goal of these initiatives is to make healthcare services, like the NHS, more accessible to those from excluded or deprived areas, those for whom travelling to and from medical centres or hospitals is challenging, and more recently, those who have been shielding. 

Moving away from healthcare as a whole, everyday tech has been tailored to support the digital transformation of the healthcare and wellbeing sector. Smartwatches, from the likes of Apple and Samsung, have granted their customers faster access to their physical health details, with interesting outcomes. The innovative features such as Apple’s single strand ECG tech and Samsung’s cuffless blood pressure monitor allows the user to be more conscious of their cardiovascular health at any time. A great step showcasing how tech can be used to support in-person check-ups.

Mental health support in the digital age

Digital mental health and wellbeing services are not a new concept. Apps like Betterhelp, who have been around since 2013, strive to make ‘professional counseling accessible, affordable, and convenient’; and Headspace, who launched in 2010, are working to ‘improve the health and happiness of the world’. But it’s only in recent months that Zoom, Facetime and Skype became the new therapist’s office, at least to this level. 

Digital options often provide a more accessible and usually more affordable route. Virtual therapy also offers support for those who cannot access or accommodate the requirements of in-person counselling within their day-to-day lives. But the challenge with remote digital mental health services lies in replicating the supportive atmosphere that face-to-face conversations can give, which is something that many found lacking in current digital solutions. For many counsellors, the ability to see the body language and tone of voice of their clients in real time can be imperative. And hiding behind a screen can in some cases hinder the progress. 

Whilst different options are there to suit various needs, can there be a way that the traditional and the digital can come together in the new normal? Perhaps bringing together the flexibility of digital and the connection provided by in-person sessions will allow those who use mental health services to draw from the best parts of each. 

From the weights room to your living room

The concept of home workouts has already been gaining traction thanks to the development of high tech fitness equipment, like Peloton, who gave users the benefits of a spin class without the need to leave their homes. Over the years, we’ve also seen a strong growth in Youtube classes, giving fitness influencers and brands a platform to run their workouts and earn a fair amount of income. Like Alo Yoga, who have been making workout videos since 2012 and at the height of the pandemic saw an increase of over 300% in their platform’s engagement, a 40% rise in views and a 50% increase in watch time.  For brands who’ve always been firmly rooted in a digital space, the changes from the last year led to a huge spike in purchases. Wearable tech providers, like Apple, Samsung and Garmin have seen a 20% increase in sales over the last year. But, for the more traditional fitness providers like gyms and workout class centres, memberships had to often be paused or cancelled because of the lockdown closures. This led to a revolution in how these brick and mortar fitness centres delivered their services. London fitness company Frame used the vast reach of Instagram to ask their audience what classes they were missing the most during lockdown. This then helped with the development of their new digital system Frame Online, a digital service where users have access to hundreds of fitness classes which can be live streamed or watched on demand. The main asset to digitising fitness is the huge increase of accessibility. Online workouts let customers exercise at any time and anywhere – somewhat eradicating the challenges and lack of flexibility from gym timetables and opening hours.

Psycle, a workout company we’re currently working with, took it a step further – using behavioural science and digital customer experience innovation to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and lockdowns through moving to a digital delivery of their classes. The aim for “Psycle at Home” is to create a hybrid of online and offline product delivery – an alternative digital subscription for customers during lockdown.

Digital has made its way into almost every aspect of our lives. So why shouldn’t it be at the front and centre of health and wellness? There are so many opportunities for the sector to embrace the power of digital, and it will be interesting to see how brands continue to take advantage in the post-COVID world.