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Find Fitness Bliss With NIA

NIA, a blend of yoga, martial arts, and dance, is one of the latest trends in mind-body fitness fusion.
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WebMD Feature

Tired of walking the walk to nowhere on the treadmill? Burned out on the repetitive pounding of aerobics? If the term "joyful workout" sounds like an oxymoron to you, it might be time to give NIA a try. NIA (pronounced NEE-ah) stands for neuromuscular integrative action, and it's one of the latest trends in mind-body fitness fusion. A unique blending of the fluidity and focus of Tai Chi and yoga, the grace and spontaneity of modern dance, and the energy and explosiveness of martial arts, NIA boosts both physical and emotional well-being, say enthusiasts around the country.

Best of all, NIA is just plain fun, says Sandy Bramlett, MED, a NIA instructor and director of Bodywise Studio in Atlanta. "It's pleasurable, healthy and never boring. I'm 56 and feel like I can do it for the rest of my life."

While it's just catching on nationwide, the workout actually dates back to 1983 -- the height of the aerobics boom, NIA co-founder Debbie Rosas tells WebMD. Although the Santa Rosa, Calif., studio she was running at the time was doing very well, she and NIA co-founder Carlos Rosas decided her classes needed a jump-start.

"We started thinking, 'What are we doing to our bodies, to our students' bodies, with all this jumping up and down?'" she says. "Aerobics was too myopic, too limiting, cutting out a large amount of the population that needed to be moving. We wanted to address the whole body and mind."

And so NIA (which originally stood for non-impact aerobics) was born. Classes, which typically last an hour, are designed for all ages and fitness levels, says Bramlett, who has students ranging in age from 20-something to 88.

Even as they await published studies about NIA's effects on health, exercise physiologists and doctors praise the trendy workout for getting more people into some kind of fitness regimen.

"Anytime you get people moving in something they enjoy, you'll start to see health benefits," Richard Cotton, MA, exercise physiologist based in San Diego, Calif., tells WebMD.

"Too many Americans are still not exercising," says Cotton, who edits publications for the American Council on Exercise. "While NIA is more like Tai Chi than traditional aerobics, it certainly brings about changes in the body that enhance one's health. And it's a whole lot better than sitting around on the couch all day."

William O. Roberts, MD, vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine, agrees.

Roberts, who acknowledges he had to read up on the still relatively obscure NIA before speaking with WebMD, says, "Anything that keeps people moving is great. So if NIA is what gets them up and going, that's fantastic."

There's no doubt the workout improves strength and flexibility, adds Roberts, a family practitioner in private practice in White Bear Lake, Minn. "How much your heart rate gets going will dictate your cardiovascular benefit," he says

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