Our health and wellness predictions for 2017

8 ways your approach to health may change in the coming year

The turmeric latte didn’t hit critical mass in 2016, yet the smart watch seems here to stay. What can you expect in 2017? Here are eight predictions from your Medcan experts:

1. Your doctor will prescribe exercise before medication

Doctors will ask you about your fitness ahead of measuring your blood pressure. In 2016, the American Heart Association pointed to growing medical research that shows the ability to do aerobic activities is potentially a stronger predictor of death risk than smoking, high cholesterol and hypertension.  Exercise habits offer a simple way to improve a doctor’s ability to assess a patient’s risk of cardiovascular illness or death in the next 10 years.

Which activities will your doctor prescribe?  Medcan physicians recommend vigorous aerobic activity that generates a light sweat for 30 to 45 minutes, five times a week. Not only does your body benefit, your brain does too. Vigorous exercise sparks neurogenesis, which makes new brain cells.  According to research published in 2016, swimming, tennis and the aerobic dance class Zumba are the top low-impact forms of exercise that contribute to longer lives.

2. Advances in wearable technology will enhance your workout

In addition to the traditional devices that focus on caloric expenditure and movement tracking, capabilities are increasing to cover the quality of movement including modified and advanced accelerometers.

“These devices can track workouts in terms of sets, tempo and repetitions.  Some of this tech can also detect muscle contraction percentages using electromyography through wearable clothing,” says Chris Campbell, a fitness trainer at Medcan, who is watching products by Push, Athos, FitBit, Apple iWatch, Garmin and Huawei. “This tech is still very much in the early stages of development and so it is important to monitor the weaknesses with regards to accuracy and subjectivity.”

Fitness trainers will use their devices to enhance sessions. Francesca McKenzie, a fitness trainer at Medcan, uses Coach’s Eye to slow down sport specific movements, insert lines/arrows, and submit footage to the community for input.

3. But first, meditation

Meditation is no longer just for yogis and new age hippies. The data is in: mindfulness improves focus, cognition and memory. When we make time for tuning in to our actions and habitual thought patterns, good thing happen. Defined as “the direct, openhearted awareness of what you are doing when you are doing it”, people are downloading apps to pay attention on purpose. Companies invite meditation teachers to lead workshops and new office spaces include enclosed quiet areas where employees can find stillness.

“It’s not just a workplace wellness initiative,” says Dr. Gina Di Giulio, Director of Psychology at Medcan. “I recommend it as a daily practice at the individual level. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness or removal of disease, but rather the focus on more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. Meditation has been shown to help people find that. It’s the good to great movement and mindfulness – whether it’s in our eating, walking or social interactions – is an essential part of that process.”

Mindful design will also be spotted in more homes and workplaces where meditation rooms and unplugging from technology is encouraged – so instead of jolting alertness with another espresso, you get refreshed and focused during a 20-minute silent retreat.

4. Seaweed is the new kale, and other food trends

Seaweed, underrated superfood. This vegetable of the sea comes in many forms and colours. Dulse (purple-red seaweed), arame (looks like brown shoelaces) and wakame (green, rubbery seaweed) are just three types of this nutritious algae. Rich in vitamins A, C and B, plus a source of calcium, magnesium, iron and amino acids, seaweed also has antioxidant, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.

Teff adds iron to your plate. Following on the heels of quinoa and chia, teff might be the next big grain to hit the scene. “Teff joins the list of popular ancient whole grains like farro, quinoa, spelt, amaranth and millet. It’s a nutrient-dense alternative to wheat, rich in minerals like iron and calcium. One of the higher protein grains, teff clocks in at ten grams per cup making it a great option for vegetarians and omnivores alike. You can use it for making baked goods, polenta dishes or porridge,” says Alexandra Friel, a registered dietitian at Medcan.

Purple potatoes lower blood pressure. Potatoes with purple flesh have been linked to decreased inflammation and increased antioxidant capacity of one’s blood stream. It’s the potato of choice to help lower the risk of heart disease without weight gain.

Fermented foods improve gut health.   Some call our gut the “second brain” for its ability to influence not only our weight, digestion, but our overall well-being. The cells of this second brain are our gut microbiota, the distinctly unique mix of bacteria, protozoa, viruses and other bugs inside our intestines. These microbiota, known collectively as our microbiome, which is often described as a garden. An individual’s microbiome can be influenced by genetics, breast milk as infants, our environments and the allergens we were exposed to as children.  Naturopaths and registered dietitians encourage eating fermented foods to help the garden to flourish.  A healthy gut supports your immune system, says Ben Klinck, a naturopath at Medcan. Recommended foods include yogurt, fermented milk, kafir, kimchi, goat’s milk and cheese, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut. These foods will become easier to find on menus and they are also easy to make at home. In 2017, sour is the new sweet.

5. You will sign up for a wellness adventure vacation

Lounge chair and margarita vacations are so passé. Your next holiday will help you achieve physical strength and mental resilience.  Companies are bringing customized fitness, nutrition, integrative medicine and mind-body therapies to luxury resorts. As writer Sadie Stein recently said in the New York Times, “We live in a golden age of the wellness vacation, a sort of hybrid retreat, boot camp, spa and roving therapy session that, for the cost of room and board, promises to refresh body and mind and send you back to your life more whole.”

Medcan led an adventure vacation in 2016, where participants trained to climb and summit Africa’s tallest mountain.

“What I couldn’t foresee was that by enlisting I had embarked on an ingeniously crafted path toward a goal-directed lifestyle change,” wrote one of the participants of the 2016 Medcan trip to Kilimanjaro. “For the five months leading up to the climb I was driven by the need to succeed, to work out like I hadn’t done in many years. I lost 15 pounds and more importantly regained cardio capacity and an energy level not experienced in a long time.”

Medcan is planning its next Kickstart adventure. If you are interested in more information, please click here.

6. Your employer will make preventive and mental health a priority

First-of-its-kind research in 2016 showed wellness programs can positively impact health behaviours and can reduce absence.  The best corporate wellness programs tie their mission to prevention and ensure health is kept top of mind with easy to access resources and a work culture that is amenable to fitness, good nutrition and optimal sleep. Backed by this growing evidence and business leaders, the expansion of wellness benefits to include prevention will continue to grow in 2017.

Small businesses and large corporations are starting to realize the connection between mental health and a more productive, less absent, workforce. Employers are increasing the amount of therapy covered per year, for a broader range of treatment.  Starbucks Canada made headlines for increasing its investment in therapy for full-time employees from $400 to $5,000 each year.

Employers also offer video visits with physicians and psychologists to remove any obstacles to care. A national insurer offers rewards and better prices for healthier life choices.

7. Cosmetic skin care will rejuvenate necks and hands

In 2017, cosmetic dermatology turns its focus to the hands and neck, the parts of the body that can reveal your age first.

“Non-invasive procedures for the body are trending up in 2017.  People want results with little to no downtime and with the latest technologies we can deliver,” says Dr. Julia Carroll, Director of Dermatology at Medcan.

Through combination treatments, the hands can be re-volumized, and sun damage can be removed. For smoother jawlines, Belkyra, a non-surgical injectable which was introduced in 2016, targets undesirable fullness under the chin. The cosmetic world is buzzing about other areas we may be able to use this fat-busting technology.  For now we are staying with on-label use but stay tuned for new treatment areas.

In general Dr. Carroll  recommends frequent conservative treatments for best results whether she is treating the face or the body.

8. Microbiome: Our guts become our most reliable biological sensor

“Bacteria that lives with you tells a lot about you,” says Dr. James Aw, Chief Medical Officer at Medcan. “The changes in your gut bacteria will be able to give us insight into your health, disease, diet and exercise. It’s like the biological wearable.”

Dr. Aw follows the work of Dr. Linda Lee, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and the clinical director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She told the Johns Hopkins Health Review that when we experience problems that are associated with gut microbes, it’s often because the balance of the ecosystem is out of whack.

“If diversity decreases or the ratio of certain types of microbes shifts, this can cause inflammation, which is connected to insulin resistance, weight gain, troubling GI symptoms, and in some cases, the onset of cancer,” said Dr. Lee, who was a leader in fecal transplants, which helped restore colon health by inserting good bacterial strains from a healthy donor (much like a blood transfusion).

Dr. Aw predicts that 2017 research will offer new insight into how we can manage our gut garden with more precision.

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