Our fascination with self-improvement shows no signs of waning, and there's no shortage of new diet and exercise trends aimed at helping us meet our health goals. Watchers of food and fitness trends say the road to better health is paved with new possibilities - along with some old ones that are poised to make a comeback.
According to experts, some of the exercise and diet trends that appear to be past their prime are:
- Low-carbohydrate diets
- High-impact aerobic workouts
- Expensive home gym equipment
Health trends on the way up, they say, include:
- Whole-health diets
- Back-to-basics food and exercise plans
- Exotic dietary influences
- Functional fitness
- Mind/body workouts
- The "buddy system" of working out
As everything old becomes new again, experts predict a return to "gentler" times as a key trend emerging in the world of health and fitness.
"The biggest trend I see is a back-to-the-basics approach -- getting away from highly processed foods and back to whole foods," says nutritionist Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Similarly, trend forecaster Gerald Celente predicts a turn away from the "strictly weight loss diet book" and a move toward what he calls "whole-health" eating -- diets that not only help us lose weight, but live a healthier lifestyle.
"We will focus our attention on those plans that provide us with 'recipes' for staying healthy in mind, body and spirit," says Celente, publisher of The Trends Journal and director of TrendsResearch.com.
"Functional foods" will be another trend, adds Sass, co-author of Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy: When Food Conflicts Get in the Way of Your Love Life.
"Food as medicine or functional foods will continue to grow --- foods that heal, foods for prevention, anti-aging foods, foods for specific health issues, foods as nutrition therapy," she says. "Foods will be increasingly marketed this way to consumers."
Fitness Goes Back to Basics, Too
After nearly a decade of chasing high-tech fitness dreams, experts say, there's also a movement toward going back to basics for getting in shape.
"The high-tech stuff was great and everybody loves gadgets, but what ends up happening is it becomes a great place to hang your clothes," says Ken Locker, MA, ATC, a spokesman for the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). "Everybody in America now has a little treadmill in the corner with clothes on it -- and now, there is a trend away from that, a trend back to basics."
By basics, he means using the body, and not much else, to get in shape, says Locker, a certified athletic trainer at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. So remember those calisthenics from fifth grade: push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and sprints? If trend forecasters are right, that could be the workout of the future.
According to Phil Black, a former Navy Seal instructor who is now a personal trainer and San Diego fitness entrepreneur, another emerging trend is functional fitness -- programs that help us move through daily life with greater ease.
"People don't care so much about becoming a pro athlete as much as they care about whether they can pick up their child without hurting their back, or do things around the house without getting injured or sore," says Black, inventor of the Fit Deck, a type of flash cards for everyday workouts. "We're looking towards workouts that increase flexibility and core strength and help you live a healthier life overall."
5 More Health Trends to Watch
Here are five other trends experts say they expect to grow.
1. Exotic Tastes
Some food experts say we'll be looking to exotic spices and side dishes to perk up our diets.
"Americans have become more open-minded about different tastes and flavors from the world," says Greg Drescher, senior director of strategic initiatives at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y.
This will not only mean tastier meals at home, but healthier restaurant eating, too, Drescher predicts.
"When restaurants first rolled out health initiatives, sales collapsed for items marked 'heart healthy,'" says Drescher, who coordinates the annual CIA Worlds of Healthy Flavors conference held in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health.
"But thanks to the convergence of America's growing immigrant population, interest in culinary adventure, changing palates, and the availability of diverse ingredients, the food industry can meet health challenges with full-flavored cuisines."
Drescher says he expects to see both home and restaurant cooks using more ingredients like:
- Pomegranates, pistachios, and peaches
- Exotic grains such as quinoa, millet, and bulgur
- Bread alternatives like rice paper, tortillas, and pita bread
- Spices with a Middle Eastern twist, like cardamom and zatar
2. Location, Location, Location!
If a location is known for thin and glamorous people, then eating what they eat will make us thin and glamorous too, right? We're not so sure, but some experts believe we can expect to see lots more books about diets based on places.
"Forward-thinking diet experts know that readers will have positive associations with places," says Cathy Lewis, whose media firm has been tracking location diet trends for the past year.
"That's why we connect The Miami Mediterranean Diet with buff, sun-kissed rollerbladers and the Nantucket Diet with svelte, well-bred sailboarders."
Lewis notes that the publishing industry has been through the diet gurus and is now turning to authors who create brands not based on themselves, but their locations.
It started with The South Beach Diet and French Women Don't Get Fat, and has continued with The Sonoma Diet and Japanese Women Don't Get Fat or Old. Lewis said other locale-based diets are sure to follow as Americans continue to search for a thinner, healthier culture to copy.
Celente categorizes this concept as more fad than trend and believes that it will run its course in time.
"I think it will peak, and we'll all get excited and want to do it, and then it will fade -- and some other fad will take its place," says Celente.
3. Mind-Body Fitness Solutions
One of the most popular fitness trends involves combining what might seem like opposing exercises, like mind-body movements plus aerobics.
Among these new workouts are:
- Cy-Yo, a one-hour workout combining 10 minutes of yoga, 40 minutes of speed cycling on a stationary bike, then 10 more minutes of yoga to cool down and refocus the mind. Cy-Yo workouts are offered in a number of health facilities across the nation, including some Gold's Gyms.
- YogaFit workouts merge traditional yoga with a variety of other activities, including strength training, core muscle building, and butt firming.
- Yoga and Pilates is another hot combination to watch, say the trend watchers at IdeaFit.
"Whether it's blasting your abs into shape or helping you heal a back injury, these [new combined yoga workouts] will give you the versatility to do both," says Beth Shaw, a certified yoga instructor who is president of YogaFit.
The IdeaFit experts say we'll also see more online training programs, core-conditioning classes, and kid-specific fitness plans. And, they predict, more of us will be hiring personal trainers.
4. You Need a Friend
So you can't afford a personal trainer? Maybe your pet can serve as your exercise buddy. One up-and-coming trend combines man and beast for a program that helps people and their pets get fit together. There's even a medical study to show it can work.
In a 12-month study, experts at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago demonstrated that both people and pets were more successful in staying with a weight loss program when they did it together. (Besides, you know how Fido hates to go to the gym alone!)
Both the people and their pets were placed on a balanced, low-calorie diet and given a 30-minute moderate activity plan to do together, three times a week. When compared with dogs only and people only, the combined people-pet group lost the most weight -- the people, an average of about 11 pounds, the dogs, about 12 pounds.
Don't have a furry friend with whom to share your workouts? Experts expect more of us to connect with fitness and diet buddies via the Web as we turn to Internet weight loss programs to slim down and shape up.
5. Personal Responsibility
Celeste says the time is ripe for us to stop looking for an easy way out, and decide to take responsibility for our own health.
"Often, things have to hit a breaking point before they start to reverse," he says, "and the breaking point is happening now -- it is the age of self-responsibility."
Anything that can help us take responsibility for our health more seriously, he says, is going to have staying power.