It might just be that there’s a shift afoot when it comes to our fitness goals.

If you’re like me, the first couple months of a new year have usually meant intense goals for getting back into shape and discipline after the feasting and fun of the holiday season. That usually means that I spend several weeks with sore muscles, a cranky knee that won’t stop talking to me on the treadmill, and an overall sense that I’ve got to push harder to meet my goals. After all, we were raised on ‘no pain, no gain,’ right?

But that tide just might be turning.

As more research rolls out about not only the healthy side of exercise, but also the potential challenges and risks, we’re learning more and more that too much or too intense is not a good thing when it comes to health goals. One of the top buzzwords in physical health over the last few years has been inflammation and the role it plays in how we feel and how everything from cardiac wellness to joint mobility is impacted. A recent study cited by the National Institutes of Health revealed that intense, long exercise stints, such as extreme distance running and the like, create high levels of sustained inflammation in the body. As a result of this finding, the researchers made a recommendation of periods of exercise followed by periods of rest, with the levels of exercise being more moderate.1

If you’ve been a fitness or gym rate for any amount of time, you’re likely familiar with the acronym HIIT, meaning high-intensity interval training. It’s been all the rage for quite a while. The Harvard School of Public Health defines HIIT as “ a type of interval training exercise. It incorporates several rounds that alternate between several minutes of high intensity movements to significantly increase the heart rate to at least 80% of one’s maximum heart rate, followed by short periods of lower intensity movements.”2 While the HIIT approach to exercise is efficient and will definitely get your heart pumping, there are some new thoughts about this intense approach. A HIIT session raises your cortisol levels, the stress hormone of the body. Prolonged exposure to cortisol comes with its own health consequences. While you might keep HIIT part of your overall approach to fitness, there are growing recommendations that you consider keeping HIIT sessions to one or two times per week, to allow the body adequate recovery time.3

With the growing understanding of how much is too much and how much is enough when it comes to fitness, the health trends predicted for 2024 reflect much of this reconsideration. (You can check out last year’s health and fitness trends here.) And it seems that we’re starting to incorporate at a deeper level the concept that our habits of health aren’t just about getting in workouts; it’s also about managing stress, taking time away from screens, and more:

  1. A bigger focus on recovery: Working out to the point of total exhaustion, and then getting up and doing it all over again the next day, is being replaced by a more body-friendly approach. Look for exercise outlets that get your heart rate up but that also protect your joints. Swap out a running session for a brisk walk. Put in a little time on the elliptical instead of on the hard pavement. Walking in the pool at your gym can add great resistance while keeping the impact low.
  2. A digital diet: Because of the work done on understanding stress and overstimulation and its impact on our overall health, take a look at your digital diet in addition to your nutritional one. There is growing evidence that jumping on our phones in the first few minutes after we wake up in the morning is a potent way to get the day off on the wrong foot, with news hurtling at us and demands showing up in our texts and inboxes. Consider instead making journaling or exercising or prepping breakfast your first activity of the day. Allow your brain to come out of its sleep/wake cycle gently, before getting to the potential stress-induing inputs that come through our phones and screens today.4
  3. Make vacation time healthy time: As a culture, we tend to promote the idea of playing as hard as we work. We line up vacation syllabuses that take a level of energy that rivals or even doubles our usual daily lives. While there is a lot to be said about experiencing new things while taking time away from work and home, make rest and recovery part of the planning as well. Shape Magazine contributor and travel writer Karla Walsh predicts that 2024 will be the rise of several trends in this way, what she calls “slow travel.” She says, “Throughout my research, I’ve seen hotels with sleep-supporting amenities, staycation packages, laid-back activities like wine tastings and nature walks, and lodge-like layouts that allow solace-seeking travelers to avoid seeing other patrons.”5 If you typically come home from travel more exhausted than when you left, it might be time to consider the slow travel trend.
  4. Make mocktails your usual: Mocktails are definitely having a trending moment. And, when it comes to your health, cheers to hoping that’s a trend that will stay. Research continues to mount that alcohol extorts a big price when it comes to your health. Neuroscientist and Stanford professor of ophthalmology Dr. Andrew Huberman has become one of the leading voices in his concern about physical and emotional health and the neurological impact of drinking.
  5. Pickleball is still king, but badminton is making a scene: Everybody and their grandmother seems to have fallen in love with pickleball over the last few years. From neighborhood leagues playing in the cul-de-sac to full-out tournament teams, the community, fun, and decent workout you get from pickleball will likely keep it at the top of the group sports stack. But don’t sleep on badminton, a similar form of racquet play. You don’t need a court to play badminton like you do with pickleball, the racquet is lighter, the birdie is easier to hit, and the impact level is lower on your body. All the way around, badminton is positioned to become the new darling of the group sport set.

Each year seems to bring its own blend to how we live our wellness out. The most important trend of all for you is that your health is a focus this year, however you choose to do your workout, take your vacations, or fill your plate. If you’re an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, don’t forget to download the Altrua HealthShare App to help you track your goals, be reminded to stay hydrated, keep up-to-date on your health appointments, prescriptions, and more. If you’re not yet an Altrua HealthShare Member, and you’d like to learn more about living a healthy lifestyle, along with features to help you in your wellness journey, call and speak with a Member Services Representative (1.888.969.0857) to learn more about how Altrua HealthShare could be the right fit for you when it comes to your healthcare.