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Exercise Physiologist: ‘Trendy Exercise Programs Can Be A Double-Edged Sword’

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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File photo of a person performing a CrossFit workout. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images for NASCAR)

File photo of a person performing a CrossFit workout. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) - Every year, millions of Americans commit themselves to New Year’s resolutions involving weight loss and healthier lifestyles.

It’s an individual concern that, according to ongoing research and statistics regarding obesity, affects a significant portion of the population. And the amount of people grappling with their weight seems to only be rising, despite the best intentions of many.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 35.7 percent of American adults – more than a third of the adult American population – are now considered obese, in addition to 17 percent of children and adolescents throughout the United States.

For many, health-related resolutions entail adopting new exercise programs, some of which promise fast results in addition to long-term success. Commercial diet programs – usually referred to as “fad diets” – are often marketed in a similar fashion, designed to appeal to those hoping to lose a significant amount of weight as quickly as possible.

But while some more tried-and-true methodologies tend to work well over time, trend-based programs seem to be riddled with risk, particularly when it comes to serious exercise-related injuries.

Earlier this month, an experienced CrossFit athlete and coach by the name of Kevin Ogar was rendered paralyzed from the waist down after severing his spinal cord during a competition in Orange County, Calif. The devastating injury occurred in a “freak accident” that resulted in heavy weights landing on his back, CBS Denver reported.

It is far from the only occurrence of injury during participation in a recently popularized sport. Obstacle course races such as the Tough Mudder and the Warrior Dash have also made headlines following the hospitalization of some who attempted to complete them.

It is true that such injuries can often be attributed to a simple lack of preparation by participants. All the same, experts expressed concern regarding the safety and overall effectiveness of these programs, especially as more people become involved in them while attempting to shed unwanted pounds.

“Trendy exercise programs can be a double-edged sword, especially given our instant gratification-focused society,” author and exercise physiologist Tom Holland told CBS Atlanta. “While encouraging people to be more active is a necessity due to the incredible rise in obesity and lifestyle-related diseases, many of these programs can come at a high cost, including injuries, potentially serious ones.”

He added, “As the participation in these extreme-type of exercise has grown exponentially over the past decade, so too has the number of visits to orthopedists and emergency rooms.”

Dr. Walter Thompson, an associate dean for graduate studies and research at Georgia State University, agreed.

“Relative to trendy exercise programs, everyone is looking for the quick fix these days — instant access to records, instant access to information … instant gratification, etc.,” he said. “I have studied exercise programs and exercise adherence for nearly three decades. My research has not found a single quick fix.”

He continued to CBS Atlanta, “Exercise takes time and devotion. Anyone who says different is trying to separate you from your money.”

Rather than relying upon “trendy” exercise programs and fad diets to reverse the rising obesity trend in the U.S., experts urge those looking to live healthier lives to stick to the basics, both in regards to physical activity and eating habits.

“The basics are what work long-term. Always have, always will. Extremes are actually easy. It is moderation and consistency over time that is exponentially more difficult,” Holland noted. “With the increasing number of gyms and boutique clubs opening every day across the country, gym owners are fighting for the fracturing membership pool and one way to lure people in the door is with these trendy programs promising big results in little time.”

Thompson asserted that making physical education a greater priority in schools that have largely sacrificed such programs in the face of mandatory budget cuts could also help turn the tide.

“Our kids are not getting the daily physical activity they need to become life-long adopters of healthy lifestyles which includes regular exercise,” he observed. “The childhood obesity rate is proof.”

He additionally noted that the lack of emphasis on physical fitness in schools, combined with the increasingly sedentary nature of the American lifestyle, will only spell trouble for future generations.

Holland concurred, adding that, “In the past exercise fads were too easy. Now they’re too difficult for the vast majority of people. Fitness fads love to be on the pendulum, yet the answers lie in-between. It’s just really difficult to market moderation. Even harder than CrossFit.”

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