Man in a yoga pose known as the Lotus.

Fitness fads

Over the years, many different exercises have become the latest craze in keeping us healthy. Jennifer Trent Staves reviews some of the most memorable

Aerobics classes

This eponymous exercise involves physical activity for a sustained period of time (often 30 minutes to an hour) and at an intensity high enough to break a sweat but low enough to facilitate aerobic respiration.

In the 1970s, aerobics classes and videos became a popular way of getting exercise. They involved a mixture of rhythmic dance movements, strength training and stretching for a set period of time.

Potential benefits of aerobic exercise include:

  • muscle strengthening (particularly the respiratory muscles), as well as improved blood flow to all of our muscles
  • burning of body fat
  • increased endurance (via increased storage of glycogen within the muscles)
  • improved ability of muscles to use fats rather than intramuscular glycogen for energy during exercise
  • improved muscular ability to recover from high-intensity exercise.

Many other exercises also fall under the heading of ‘aerobic exercise’, such as calisthenics – exercises using your own body weight as resistance, like star jumps and push-ups – and skipping with a rope and hula-hooping (our next two fads).

Skipping rope

A popular childhood activity, skipping with a rope is simple and only involves one piece of equipment. Athletes also use it for training: boxers are a well-known example.

Because skipping with a rope is an aerobic exercise, potential benefits include muscle strengthening (particularly the respiratory muscles, legs and lower body) and burning body fat.


This circular endeavour has Egyptian and Greek origins, from 500 BCE. In the 1950s, the hula hoop became a fad toy in its plastic form.

Because it’s a low-intensity aerobic exercise, the potential benefits of hula-hooping include burning body fat, strengthening the back, thigh, waist and abdominal muscles, and improving the circulatory system, when done for long enough. The record for time spent hula hooping is 74 hours. (Talk about endurance!)


This activity originated in India (perhaps as far back as 3000 BCE), where it was considered to be a mental and spiritual exercise, as well as a physical one, with the aim of improving your overall health and wellbeing. It became better known in the UK and elsewhere from the late 1800s onwards.

There are several different types of yoga. The three main focuses of Hatha yoga, for example, are exercise, breathing and meditation. It involves holding still in specific poses: some poses encourage muscle strength, and others encourage flexibility.

Although yoga is not an aerobic exercise, some studies say it is helpful for the cardiovascular system because it can reduce blood pressure and other risk factors, perhaps owing to stress reduction. Proponents of yoga also say it increases lung capacity because of its focus on ‘mindful’ breathing.


Like yoga, pilates focuses on conditioning the body rather than on aerobic activity. With origins in the 20th century, pilates lacks the longevity of yoga but is nonetheless practised by tens of millions of people. Pilates focuses on core strength and stabilisation, using your own body for resistance, and aims to improve muscle flexibility, strength and endurance.

Vibrating belts

First designed in the 1960s, these contraptions contract your abdominal muscles for you, claiming to tighten up your midsection by ‘melting’ body fat. This claim was disproven, but today there are machines that encourage your entire body to vibrate. These machines claim to improve strength and prevent muscle loss by stimulating the muscles to flex and tense up repeatedly. There is no formal research to back up these claims, however; read these two clashing interpretations and decide for yourself:

Fitness shoes

Wouldn’t it be good to work out while you’re going about your day? Designed by biomechanists at London South Bank University, these shoes have an undulating insole that aims to act like a wobble board, activating your muscles on each step. Their case studies say the bottom, hamstring and lower leg muscles are activated more – sometimes up to 30 per cent more. Critics of the shoe question whether the shoe itself offers any real fitness benefits other than perhaps encouraging you to get out and walk more.

Lead image:

Man in a yoga pose known as the Lotus. This pose is used for meditation and to keep joints flexible.

Wellcome Library, London CC BY NC ND


Questions for discussion

  • One of the latest fads in fitness is barefoot running: either running barefoot or wearing a shoe that simulates barefoot running. Do some online research to find out what this fad is all about. There are a few things to think about: What do the product’s proponents, such as its manufacturer, say? What are the product’s potential benefits? What are the product’s potential risks? Is there any formal scientific research into the potential health benefits? What do critics say about the fad?
  • What other fitness fads have you encountered?

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Exercise, Energy and Movement’ in January 2012 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Physiology, Immunology, History, Health, infection and disease
Exercise, Energy and Movement
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development