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What does wellness even mean?

We surveyed American adults to find out what wellness means in 2022

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When a famous Minnesotan singer-songwriter said that the times are a’changin’, he probably wasn’t talking about American wellness habits (but to be fair, we never asked him).

But just because there’s no anthem for people finding more personal importance in wellness doesn’t mean it’s not happening. To prove it, Vox partnered with Fitbit and The Circus, an insight and data storytelling consultancy, to conduct a survey of healthy Americans over the age of 18. The results made one thing clear: Wellness can mean a lot more than you might think.

Even though there was no singular definition of what wellness means, most Americans today view “health” as something that also serves emotional and mental well-being. Gen Z respondents (age 18-25) went so far as to say managing their mental well-being is the top reason they engage in healthy behaviors. What’s especially interesting is that 82% of respondents also see physical well-being as interconnected with sleep and mental well-being. In other words, if they feel good physically, they’ll sleep better and feel better emotionally — and vice versa.

Evolution of Health

Of our respondents, 84% don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach to wellness. We even gave our respondents a list of phrases that define being healthy — staying active, minimizing illness, being strong, loving yourself, and so on — and there was never more than an 8% consensus on any one thing.

What this tells us is that Americans want a more holistic approach to health — and they want it to work for their lifestyle. Of the 87% of respondents who say they exercise at least once a week, the forms of exercise they chose ranged from light cardio (51%), to yoga (17%), to group cross-training (12%), to meditation (26%) and beyond.

But what was most surprising was that a key trait of respondents who consider themselves “Hardcore Healthy” was how much they said they listen to their bodies for insight. The group said they spend time checking in with themselves about not just their emotional state, but where they’re holding tension in their bodies, and whether they need physical or emotional solutions to take care of issues they’re facing. To cater to that, fitness devices like Fitbit have gone beyond tracking to include options like guided meditation.

Personalization of Health

Maybe the most important change in how people approach wellness today is technology’s role. Regardless of their health status, less than half of each survey respondent group said they were good at discerning things like caloric intake, heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep without technology.

In fact, according to respondents, wearable technology helped not just make them more health conscious, but also improved their health and fitness. Seventy-two percent of respondents who use Fitbit devices specifically reported that the device is the best way to ensure they get the most out of a cardio workout — and 80% of Fitbit wearers said their device helped them know how hard they worked out.

While the way we approach wellness varies from person to person, one thing remains the same: Our physical exercise, mental exercise, and sleep habits all work together to elevate how we feel. The important thing is finding what works best for us — and what we need to support that.

Role of Technology


The Vox Media I&I team surveyed 2,000 consumers at the end of 2021 with our partner, The Circus: an insight and data storytelling consultancy that specializes in original trend research, thought leadership, and strategic brand positioning rooted in a human-data centric approach.