Exercise is crucial to our health and wellness—both physically and mentally—but not all of us love heading to the gym or going for a run. The good news: The world of fitness has widely expanded, and now, more than ever, there’s something for everyone.
Mental Health and Fitness
The various facets of our wellness are interconnected. Our physical, mental, skin and gut health all impact each other like dominoes: If one isn’t strong, it risks toppling the whole structure. For those struggling with mental health, whether medically diagnosed or just going through a rough patch, oftentimes the last thing you want to do is get up and exercise. I’ve always resented those who have told me regular exercise would improve my mental health, so don’t tell them, but they’re right. Exercise isn’t only benefiting the body—the brain needs it, too.
DanceBody and Alo Moves instructor Katia Pryce calls exercise “getting her daily ‘D.O.S.E’ of happy chemicals—dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.” These happy chemicals and other elements of exercise can contribute to elevated mood and energy and decreased feelings of anxiety and depression, says Danielle Cote, director of training operations for Pure Barre. Karen Maxwell, director of training for CycleBar, adds that she often thinks the mental health benefits far outweigh the physical ones. From better sleep to improved memory, exercise can be a lifeline for a weary brain.
Alo Moves barre instructor Emily Sferra points to a myriad of studies supporting the notion “that physical movement creates a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, including brain health and function, which impact our mood and mindset.” Sferra says, “Movement moves us,” but we have to let it. The most effective workout is one you will do consistently, so if traditional exercise doesn’t appeal to you, try some of these popular modern takes on working out.
“Barre is a full-body, low-impact form of movement inspired by elements of dance, yoga and Pilates,” explains Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre. One of the bonuses of this exercise is that it helps strengthen the mind-body connection. The practice can employ light weights or just your body’s resistance, ”combining slow movements with high-intensity intervals to work the entire body,” New York barre instructor Grace Freyre adds. Barre supports a long, lean, dancer’s body aesthetic, as it emphasizes alignment, improved posture, lean muscles and a stronger core, says Sferra. One of the wonders of barre is that there are so many varieties to try, including sculpt, yoga, dance, and prenatal.
Barre not only increases strength, balance and coordination. Cote says it can also decrease risk of chronic disease and lower resting blood pressure. “Most people leave a barre class feeling that endorphin high without the exhaustion,” adds Freyre. “The key is finding studios you love! Try different classes and instructors, and see who you connect with.”
“Barre is for anyone and everyone!” says Sferra. “Runners and cyclists often comment on how great barre is as a cross-training modality. And if you enjoy working out to the beat of a song or you have a background in dance, cheerleading or anything musical, you’re likely to fall in love and feel at home with the beat-based nature of this workout.”
Anyone paying attention to fitness trends has heard of pickleball. It’s a game that incorporates elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton, and it’s played on a court, explains Marcos Landavazo, pickleball instructor at Rancho La Puerta. “Pickleball has a short learning curve and doesn’t requiring too much running, so it can be enjoyed by almost everyone, with ages of players ranging from youth to 90 years old,” says Frank Frounfelker, tennis pro at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, a Gurney’s Resort & Spa.
Founders of Recess Pickleball, Maggie Brown and Grace Moore, say it “takes two minutes to learn how to play and 15 minutes to fall in love, making it the most approachable game.” It’s such a hit because it’s social, fun and easy to learn, even for novices, notes Frounfelker. “It is fast-paced and a bit addicting. It keeps your brain sharp because of the way the scoring system is structured,” adds Landavazo.
“Indoor cycling, specifically, has been compared to therapy by many people,” says Maxwell. “The power of movement and music has the ability to instantly boost your mood. I have laughed, cried and sweat out a lot of stuff in a cycling class.” The magic of indoor cycling is that the music, movement and group energy meld together to enhance the experience. “Music and cycling are beautifully rhythmic together and can help the mind and body relax and energize.” Next time you need to release some anxious energy, hop on a bike for 45 minutes and see how you feel.
This workout combines classic Pilates mat moves with a reformer machine. “This machine has many different pieces and functions that can assist in strengthening the core, building muscle, increasing flexibility, and giving the perfect full-body workout,” says Kira Jones Matousek, founder of Cacti Wellness. “The machine uses different amounts of resistance (weight) to complement each exercise, so it’s wonderful for muscles and bones, as well as burning fat. It’s truly an all-in-one workout.”
“While some variations of reformer Pilates are very athletic, others focus more on rehabilitation, so it’s all about finding a teacher and class that fit you,” explains Alo Moves Pilates trainer Laura Quinn. “Once you find teachers you trust and love, it will be much easier to stay consistent.” Whether you’re interested in trying reformer Pilates in a therapeutic or athletic setting, it’s a great way to integrate fitness and movement into your daily routine, says Club Pilates master trainer and health and wellness coach Carissa Fernandez. Moreover, “the breathwork required in Pilates classes can also positively impact stress levels and hormones, supporting mental health.”
VR (Virtual Reality)
The most modern fitness advancement, virtual reality (VR) workouts allow you to enter a new realm, one in which exercise is more enjoyable. As one of the newest frontiers, new devices are still in the works, but don’t wait to get on board with this innovation, especially if you’re generally hesitant to exercise in public. From the comfort of your home, you can slip on VR goggles and be “transported to a mountaintop in Peru, where you start smashing targets to the beat of your favorite song with a coach guiding you the whole time,” says Leanne Pedante, head of fitness for Supernatural, a VR fitness app. “You’re boxing to the beat of music, or hitting targets while you squat and lunge, or playing an epic sport from the future.”
One of the reasons VR workouts are great for so many people is that “they allow you to work out without being surrounded by mirrors,” says Pedante. “You’re not faced with the self-consciousness or comparison that so many people struggle with when going to a gym. You are just feeling your body move in these big, powerful ways. It’s quite profound!” With the culmination of awe-inspiring environments, music you love and supportive coaches, you might find yourself craving these full-body immersive workouts more than you ever thought possible.
Those who grew up in dance studios surrounded by mirrors and music will love this option. However, you don’t need any experience to enjoy the benefits of an adult dance fitness class. It’s much more fast-paced and has a more lively energy than barre. “Dance and music directly hit the primal reward centers of our brain, so in a sense, we are hardwired to enjoy them,” says Pryce. “Dance is an acquired skill, and if you haven’t done it before, it can be an exciting new challenge for the body and brain, as it uses the connection between these two uniquely compared to other workout styles. It actually burns new neural pathways in the brain to process coordination and rhythm.” If you’re hesitant to begin or feel intimidated, Pryce recommends beginning with online dance fitness classes at home before hitting a studio.
“Dance produces a different kind of confidence that can be seen in your posture alone,” says Pryce. “The energy just surrounds you in a very different way. Everyone has to start somewhere, but if you stay consistent, the reward is worth the learning curve.” It’s a great workout for those who don’t typically enjoy exercising or find fitness to be boring. “Dance is anything but boring!” Pryce adds. “It’s also great for those who are already fit and feel like they have plateaued or are looking for a new challenge.”
“Hot Girl Walks”
The idea of “hot girl walks” hit during the pandemic, but the trend is still going strong, and we fully support it. Rogers says walking has always been an underrated form of exercise. “I am a huge believer in the power of walks to not only tone the body, but also improve functional movement, such as better posture and joint mobility. Walking also has the power to enhance mental clarity and vastly improve your mood.”
Jones Matousek is happy that walking is finally getting the praise it deserves. “One of the best things about hot girl walks is how accessible they are,” she says. “Listen to something motivational or uplifting—your favorite playlist or podcast—and just keep moving at a steady pace for 30 to 60 minutes. I find this to be the perfect midday break and a great confidence-booster.”
Rogers uses an approach she calls “awareness walking,” and it only requires one simple task for every walk: Focus on the extraordinary ordinary. “The beautiful skyline, the tree branches swaying in the wind, the air filling your lungs, the fact that you are here moving your body. Take appreciation for all of those little things that are actually quite extraordinary in your life,” she says. “Not only will you get the physical benefits from walking, but you will also experience the power of being able to take control of your mood and shift your mindset to a more positive place.” Jones Matousek adds that walking is also a form of LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) cardio, which happens to be the perfect level of intensity for fat-burning.