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From flexitarianism to exercise snacking: How we’ll keep fit in 2023

Shorter routines are easier to include into busy schedules and allow you to take advantage of any free time that you may have throughout the day

Express workouts improve sleep quality, learning ability, and longevity.
Express workouts improve sleep quality, learning ability, and longevity.getty

Every year, the worldwide survey of the Health & Fitness Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine determines the trends that will dominate the health and fitness industry in the following 12 months, with more than 3,700 experts making their predictions in a guide that serves as a sort of oracle by which many gyms in the world are governed. Here are the predictions for 2023.

The power of exercise snacking

The way we integrate exercise into our lives is changing slowly but certainly. There is growing evidence that breaking down an exercise routine into short bouts – known as exercise snacks – is as effective as an hour in the gym, and could even provide more benefits than forcing yourself to complete longer routines. Quicker exercises are easier to fit into busy schedules and let you take advantage of any free time you may have throughout the day.

Many experts believe that exercise snacks will change the way we approach fitness, making it more a matter of flexibility and convenience than pressure and obligation. The day’s schedule will not revolve around the gym; instead, the exercise will be fragmented to fit into our lives.

Exercise snacks are inspired by the concept of high intensity interval training, but with longer breaks. The exercise periods are still short, but they are distributed throughout the day in sessions divided by one to four hours. Recent studies have concluded that their benefits are comparable to traditional fitness routines.

A Canadian study asked participants to run up three flights of stairs at three different times of the day, an activity that lasted about 20 seconds each time. Six weeks later, the participants had increased their aerobic activity by 5%.

A study from the University of Texas showed that four seconds of intense exercise intervals, repeated until a minute of effort is complete, are enough to improve the strength and general fitness of older and middle-aged adults, and other experts have proven that these express trainings improve the quality of sleep, learning capacity and longevity.

An exercise snacking routine might include a stretch and a brisk walk at the beginning of the day, another at lunchtime, and a mid-day stop for 30-60 seconds of planks, push-ups, jumping jacks, squats or crunches.

Flexitarian is the word

2023 will be all about flexibility: in muscles, in joints, and in convictions, too. Until now, the world of nutrition was a polarized territory where proselytism and moral superiority abounded. However, in 2023 there will be fewer and fewer militant carnivores and enlightened vegans. Instead, nutrition will be more balanced and sensible, with diets rich in fruits and plant-based foods but without completely giving up animal proteins like meat or fish, eggs, cheese or yogurt.

The term “flexitarian” was coined in 1990 by Chef Helga Morath, who used it to define the menu offered at her restaurant Acorn Cafe in Austin, Texas, which is based on vegetables, legumes, grains and fruit, but occasionally features meat or fish.

In 2022, Google searches for “carnivore diet” surpassed the searches for “vegan diet” for the first time. Searches related to “complete proteins” and “high-quality proteins” also increased, and the American organic supermarket chain Thrive Market also reports a shift towards flexitarian eating styles.

More protein

The success of protein powders will continue in 2023, perhaps with a better dose control to consume them in a more sustainable, healthier way.

Until recently, the world of extra doses of protein was focused on promoting muscle hypertrophy, and their consumption used to be associated with the most hardcore users of the gym’s weight room. In 2023, however, protein consumption will become more universal and less segregated, more aimed at keeping the body working properly than at achieving a certain image or muscle volume.

The convenience of consuming extra doses of protein is an endless source of controversy. For most nutritionists this is mostly a commercial scheme, but proponents of this trend point out that building muscle mass, a process in which protein is involved, is an increasingly reliable predictor of longevity and good health. In addition, they claim that it is a macronutrient with great satiating capacity that helps prevent binge eating and improves diet control. It is credited with benefits for metabolic function, musculoskeletal health and hormonal balance.

The body mass index loses prestige as an indicator of health

The body mass index (BMI) is defined as the relationship between a person’s weight (expressed in kilograms) and the square of their height (expressed in meters). The results classify people in one of four categories: underweight (BMI of less than 18.5), normal weight (18.5 to 24.9), overweight (25.0 to 29.9) or obese (30 or more). This mathematical formula is a rough measure of health in large populations, but it is not enough to express the complexities of metabolism and its biochemical processes.

This is why one of the expected trends for 2023 is the decline of the BMI as an absolute metric of metabolic health.

A 2016 study of more than 40,000 American adults compared their BMI to more specific measures of their health such as insulin resistance, markers of inflammation and levels of blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol and glucose. Nearly half of those who were classified as overweight and approximately a quarter of those who were obese were metabolically healthy by these measures. Meanwhile, 31% of those with a normal body mass index were not.

When we say that someone is lucky because they have a fast metabolism, we usually refer to people who seem to burn calories very quickly. Two metrics can measure this capacity: the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories expended in the daily functioning of the body, and the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), which measures the number of calories that our body consumes while at rest.

The metabolic rates may be influenced by genetics, gender, age, muscle mass, insulin resistance, physical activity, hours of sleep, diet, eating times and general health.

The more modern view is that we are “metabolically malleable,” which means that our metabolism is not set in stone and that we could modify it through personalized therapies that improve its functioning and defy the effects of aging. You will hear a lot about personalized metabolic health in 2023.

The muscles are the new metric of longevity

According to the fitness trends for 2023, we will begin to value the muscles as much as the organs, taking into account their role as a predictor of longevity.

Several studies have shown that muscular strength is key to health and much more essential to our longevity than previously considered. A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2022 states that muscle-strengthening activities could reduce the risk of mortality by 10% to 17%; these findings consolidate muscle measurement metrics and a new culture of strength training as a way to extend life.

From the age of 30, between 3% and 8% of muscle mass is lost for every decade of life. Poor muscle mass is associated with the risk of cognitive decline, a greater insulin resistance and the presence of inflammatory markers. It also increases the risk of bone fractures, with all the associated complications. The trend for 2023 is to see the muscles as the organs of longevity. The drawback of this trend is that there are still no reliable methods for measuring muscle mass; in the absence of an adequate tool, the recommendation is to increase strength training across all ages.

Inactivity becomes the great risk factor

In 2023 we will stop counting the 10,000 steps recommended by the WHO to focus on moving instead, spending less time on the sofa or the office chair. Forget about running to catch an empty seat on the subway or the bus: it is much healthier to keep listening to your podcast or reading your book while standing up and, if possible, tightening your abdomen and straightening your back.

The true marker of health (or lack thereof) will be inactivity rate and couch time. Sitting is the new smoking. In 2023 the trend will be to increase movement and heart rate during everyday activities, placing the same value on high-intensity interval training as on a brisk walk in the park. The underlying philosophy here is that the best exercise is the one that gets done.

A study presented in 2022 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress showed that a daily 10-minute walk (or an hour a week) was associated with an increased longevity in people over 85. Specifically, it was shown among 7,047 adults over 85 that those who walked for at least one hour a week had a lower risk of cardiovascular events. In another 2022 study of 400,000 British adults, those who walked briskly every day for 10 minutes had the longest telomeres and appeared to be up to 16 years younger.

Climbing stairs and avoiding elevators and escalators makes the brain seem up to three years younger, according to one study, while another states that climbing stairs is even more effective at raising energy levels than a low dose of caffeine.

Behind the newest investigations there is an underlying message that stresses the importance of keeping the inactivity to a minimum. And even though it has been well documented that regular exercise is crucial for longevity, the goal for 2023 will be keeping it simple: instead of counting steps or hours at the gym, just keep your sitting time to a minimum.

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