INVESTING IN WELLNESS holds the potential to boost Asian economies by eliciting more productivity from healthier workers, according to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) economist.

The wellness economy is a large and growing part of the region’s overall economy, according to Donghyun Park, principal economist at the Macroeconomics Research Division of the ADB.

In a webinar Wednesday, Mr. Park said the wellness economy accounted for 11% of developing Asia’s gross domestic product in 2017, and has been growing about 10% on average in recent years.

His presentation indicated that in the Philippines, the sector accounted for 4.6% of gross value added in 2017, up from 4.2% in 2012.

“COVID-19, by highlighting the importance of physical and mental well-being, could give a further boost to the wellness economy in the coming years,” he said.

Fear of illness has been pronounced in vulnerable segments like the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, making them more aware of the importance of staying healthy.

“The lockdowns and social restrictions, being isolated from others, also add a lot of stress and anxiety. COVID-19 strengthens the case for individuals and societies to take action to pursue wellness (via) conscious and deliberate actions, choices and lifestyles to improve physical and mental health,” he added.

Physical activity can be boosted by higher spending from both the public and private sectors, he said, promoting fitness, exercise and mindfulness. This can come in the form of more parks and recreational facilities, walking paths, bicycle lanes and mass transit, which would require improved urban planning.

To promote wellness, Mr. Park said governments in Asia, particularly in poorer countries, can engineer healthy built environments starting with walkable sidewalks and improved public infrastructure. It can also promote nutrition and healthy eating as well as safe and healthy working environments.

“Wellness is vital for Asia’s economic and social recovery,” he said.

Ophelia Yeung, a senior research fellow at the Global Wellness Institute, added that there is a misconception that wellness is only for the rich.

Since wellness is about the active pursuit of holistic health, she said at the webinar that maintaining wellness is a lifestyle choice.

In richer cities or countries, Ms. Yeung said more people shift to a sedentary lifestyle as their income increases while stress levels rise as they climb the corporate ladder, making such people vulnerable to chronic illnesses.

“Some 85% of our health outcomes are determined by our lifestyles and our environment and as people in countries who get wealthier, there is a trend of suffering less from infectious disease, while suffering more from chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. A lot of these are preventable,” she said.

However, rising healthcare costs remain a challenge for people in developing countries, she said, while many are exposed to illnesses due to lack of access to healthy food and exercise.

“Wellness is about a lifestyle. From a policy perspective, it is about helping people to invest in a healthier lifestyle so that they can do healthy things… and the return on investment is very very high in many aspects: in terms of productivity, fewer sick days and a much lower healthcare costs,” she said. — Beatrice M. Laforga