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Your mother swears by yoga classes, but your best friend claims spinning is the best workout ever. Fitness fads come and go, and it's hard to sort through the latest craze to find an exercise that's right for you. So take a tour through some popular trends, and discover the benefits--and potential drawbacks--of each.
What it is: Aerobics combines rhythmic exercise with stretching and strength training routines in order to improve flexibility, muscular strength, and cardiovascular fitness. It's usually performed to music, practiced in a group setting and led by an instructor, although you can do it solo, without the tunes.
Who came up with it: Aerobics was developed by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., an exercise physiologist, and Colonel Pauline Potts, a physical therapist, both of the United States Air Force, in the late 1960s.
Why it's good for you: Aerobics is great for overall fitness--plus, medical research has shown that aerobic activity increases your body's production of endorphins, which makes you feel good.
Potential drawbacks: Because of its huge popularity in the 1980's, aerobics is forever associated with terrycloth headbands, rainbow legwarmers and Olivia Newton-John singing "Let's Get Physical."
What it is: Jazzercise offers a fusion of jazz dance, resistance training, Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing. It's great for increasing your cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility. Jazzercise can be a fairly high-impact activity, although low-impact classes are also available.
Who came up with it: Jazzercise was invented in 1969 by Judi Sheppard Missett, who turned her love of jazz dance into this incredibly popular exercise routine.
Why it's good for you: Like aerobics, Jazzercise can increase your energy, strengthen and tone your muscles, and improve your flexibility.
Potential drawbacks: It may be hard to find a Jazzercise franchise near you--however, the company is expanding all the time.
What it is: Focusing on the mind-body connection is a major trend in fitness, and Nia is, according to the Nia website, "movement-medicine for the body and soul." It combines the focus of Tai Chi and yoga, the energy of martial arts, and the flow of modern dance. In a Nia class, which usually lasts about an hour, you practice barefoot to music in order to get cardiovascular, whole-body conditioning. It's safe for any fitness level, from beginners to experts (and they have a belt system, like martial arts, so you can impress your friends with your black belt.)
Who came up with it: Debbie and Carlos Rosas created Nia in the early 1980s in order to "change the way the world went about getting fit."
Why it's good for you: According to the website, the benefits of Nia include everything from increasing the pleasure of living in your body to weight loss to alleviating your emotional problems.
Potential drawbacks: The Nia creators seem to be over-committing a bit on the results. Their website says Nia practice can heighten sexual function and make you taller. Will it also balance your checkbook and bring about world peace?
What it is: Pilates (pronounced pul-LAH-teez) is an exercise regimen that elongates and strengthens the muscles. It is a balanced, relaxing form of exercise that combines the flexibility training of yoga with the strength-building workouts of a gym. By balancing alignment, Pilates can strengthen your body to help prevent future injuries.
Who came up with it: Developed in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph H. Pilates, this exercise system focuses on improving flexibility and strength for the total body.
Why it's good for you: Many people who do Pilates regularly feel they have better posture, are less prone to injury, and experience enhanced overall health.
Potential drawbacks: While it can provide core strength and better flexibility, it doesn't give you a cardiovascular workout or build muscle mass. Plus, it's hard to pronounce.
Spinning (a.k.a. Group Cycling)
What it is: Although Spinning sounds like you spend your time whirling around like a dervish, it is actually the practice of riding a stationary bike--very, very intensely. It's a group cycling class, where an instructor leads participants through routines designed to simulate what it's like to ride a bike outdoors (with some bonus moves for extra burn). Using music, motivation, and heart rate monitoring, the riders pedal their way to customized fitness goals.
Who came up with it: Endurance athlete Jonathan Goldberg created this concept in the 1980s and later introduced it as a trademarked program. Now you can find a Spinning, or group-cycling knockoffs, at just about any gym in the country.
Why it's good for you: Not only does it provide a lot of aerobic activity (you can burn up to 600 calories in 40 minutes), spinning also strengthens muscles in your lower body.
Potential drawbacks: Like any exercise, if you don't do it correctly, injuries can occur--especially in your knees. Always make sure your cycle seat is at the right height.
What it is: Yoga is among the oldest known systems of health practiced in the world today. The physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation practices of yoga have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and regulate heart rate.
Who came up with it: No one is sure who invented yoga, but most modern forms are traced back to Patanjal, an ancient philosopher who wrote about yoga Sutras around 500 BCE.
Why it's good for you: Yoga is great when it comes to building strength and flexibility. It also makes you feel centered, balanced and strong. Not only that, but the clothes are really cute.
Potential drawbacks: Choosing the right style--of yoga, not yoga clothes--can be daunting. While most yoga classes today are designed with fitness and control of the body in mind, there are a variety of styles, including Ashtanga, Bikram, Hatha, Iyengar, and Vinyasa flow.
What it is: Zumba blends Latin rhythms and simple aerobic-type moves to create a fun, calorie-burning workout. The routines feature interval training sessions where fast and slow rhythms are combined with resistance training to tone your body.
Who came up with it: Celebrity fitness trainer Beto Perez created the concept of Latin-inspired fitness in his native Colombia in the 1990's.
Why it's good for you: Pulsing rhythms, upbeat music, and energetic instructors make good on the Zumba promise that you can "ditch the workout … join the party!"
Potential drawbacks: Some men may feel uncomfortable in what seem to be (so far) classes filled with women.
No matter which type of exercise you choose, make sure it's one you enjoy and feel like you can stick with. Better still, choose more than one--that way, there's always something new to look forward to.
About the Author
Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.