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Spring into Health

Top Fitness Trends for 2016

By Marisa Hastie, EdD, ACSM HFS, and Associate Professor and Program Director Exercise Science

One of the things that I find most enjoyable about my field is the constant evolution of how we view health, fitness and overall well-being. Fitness in particular is an area that I consistently get questions about. Looking and feeling our best is an aspiration that I find most people have, but struggle with knowing what to do in order to achieve that. New research is consistently being produced that impacts how we approach fitness training, nutrition, and health for all individuals. The consistent stream of new research sets the stage for new trends in the health and fitness industry, peaking the curiosity of those seeking new ways to train, ways to invigorate their current routine, methods for managing current health conditions, or just to make health a priority. This constant bombardment with new health crazes and approaches to training also poses a challenge - what should you believe? And, what should you try? Annually the American College of Sports Medicine releases a list of the top trends in fitness. Here a review of my top favorites from that 2016 list:

#1 Wearable technology - This has been of growing interest over the past few years as technology has provided methods for personalization of the exercise experience. Wearable technology can track everything from your heart rate, running or walking pace, distance traveled, calories burned, time spent in your target heart rate zone and much more. The benefit to most people is that you get instant feedback on your workout. Many people find the element of tracking progress through personal data motivating and it can be very useful in setting personal fitness goals. In addition, many of these devices offer options to "share" your workouts within your social network (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.). This offers a level of connectedness with fellow exercisers and the research indicates that creating and utilizing social support when trying to reach goals enhances the likelihood that you will meet those goals. One final benefit these devices offer is a low-cost alternative to regular one-on-one sessions with a trainer. While these do not substitute for the quality instruction you would receive from a certified personal trainer, they do offer a low-cost alternative to help keep you moving and tracking progress.

#2 Body weight training - Body weight training is an incredibly effective and accessible means of training. Using nothing but your own body weight, you can perform a variety of exercises that work all major muscle groups in the body. Body weight training is not just for beginners either. Many highly competitive athletes use body weight training to supplement their regular workout routines. Exercises like squats, lunges, burpees, push-ups, hanging rows, and planks are all effective exercises that engage multiple muscle groups, utilizing only your body weight and gravity as resistance. All of these exercises are highly adaptable too, and can be modified for any fitness level. One major benefit of body weight training is that it can be done anywhere! If you are traveling for work or for the holidays, or stuck inside during our New England winter storms, you can get a full body workout with little more required than an open space.

#3 High-intensity interval training - High intensity interval training (HIIT) has gained significant popularity in the media with the growing popularity of Crossfit and workouts such as Insanity. HIIT involves alternating high intensity exercises with periods of rest or low intensity activity. HIIT workouts provide similar fitness benefits as continuous endurance workouts, but in shorter periods of time. Benefits include improved: aerobic and anaerobic fitness; blood pressure; cardiovascular health; insulin sensitivity; and decreased abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass. While HIIT Training offers many benefits, it's very important for beginners to start at a level of intensity that is comfortable for them. High intensity exercise can lead to an increased risk of injury so it is very important to consult your physician before beginning, start slowly, and progress slowly!

#4 Educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals - This is a topic that I think is of the utmost importance to the public and yet is just now gaining recognition. What most people don't know is that there are hundreds of personal training certifications. It is vital that consumers choose professionals certified through programs that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), such as those offered by ACSM. ACSM is one of the largest and most prestigious fitness-certification organizations in the world and certified professionals must pass a rigorous exam process and are required to complete continuing education in order to maintain their credentials. When hiring a personal trainer, ask them if they have a degree in Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology, or a like field. Then ask them who they are certified by. If it's not by an NCCA accredited certifying body, proceed with caution. For those interested in starting a career as a fitness professional, the outlook is very positive. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that ‘‘employment of fitness trainers and instructors is expected to grow by 13% from 2012 to 2022'' and this is considered to be "faster than average" compared to other occupations. I think this is one of the most exciting and innovative career options in the allied healthcare field. You certainly won't be sitting behind a desk all day!

Before jumping on board with any new fitness trend it is important to do your research. Finding a qualified and reputable personal trainer or exercise physiologist is a great way to vet trends like these. These professionals have their finger on the pulse of the current research and can provide you with invaluable advice. It is also important to remember to start slow when trying any new fitness regimen. Everyone's body is slightly different in how they will respond. Find something you love. The most important rule to finding a workout routine that will be effective for you is to choose things that you enjoy to do and will do regularly!
Exercise is one of the most potent and effective "medicines" we have available to us and it is something that everybody should be doing. Regular participation in exercise has been shown to prevent chronic diseases and health complications, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression and anxiety, arthritis and osteoporosis. In fact, a low level of fitness is a bigger risk factor for mortality than mild-moderate obesity. Regular exercise not only can increase the quantity of years you live, but also the quality of those years. You are going to feel better, look better, and be healthier overall by adding exercise into your life. The best part too is that anything helps. If you aren't active now, start. If you are already active, do a little more. The benefits of exercise are compounding and you will reap the rewards at any level of activity.

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