It’s almost a wrap for 2023, which means it’s time for our annual list of fitness predictions for the coming year. As in the past, we reached out to several experts to ask what we should expect for 2024. Beyond forecasting a specific food fad or workout craze, these predictions are often about identifying a subtle shift in the zeitgeist when it comes to how we think about what it means to live well.
Over the years, a consistent theme has emerged: How do we embrace advances in science and technology without losing sight of the tried-and-true, or letting them corrupt an essential humanist element? This question has probably never been more urgent than in our era of accelerated machine learning. When I recently spoke to my friend Scott Lachut, a longtime veteran of the trend forecasting industry, he told me that he’d come across a few examples of gyms that offer AI-based trainers with different “personalities.” Depending on whether you wanted to be coddled or subjected to dominatrix-style abasement, your virtual coach would be able to accommodate your needs.
“I personally think that generative AI being able to offer personalization at scale is going to be pretty interesting, if a bit Big Brother-y,” Scott told me. This reminded me of that frequently cited proverb of uncertain origin, “May you live in interesting times.” Depending on your source, the line is either meant as a blessing, or a curse.
Non-Processed Food Will Be Increasingly Celebrated
My guess is that “ultra-processed” will be the food term of the year as everyone who cares about what they eat realizes that they need to cut down on foods that are industrially produced, use industrially extracted ingredients, and are designed to replace real foods and be “addictive.” Much evidence associates these foods with overweight and obesity-related chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc), and overall mortality. One clinical trial supports the addiction hypothesis; it demonstrates that people who eat ultra-processed diets as opposed to matched diets based on minimally processed foods take in many more calories. I would not be surprised to see non-ultra-processed products starting to be advertised as such.
—Marion Nestle, professor emerita at New York University and author of the Food Politics blog
The Next Bro-Science Fad Will Be Inspired By Rodents
Sometime in 2024, we will learn of an epochal breakthrough in the quest for longevity. There will be a molecule that, when given in sufficient quantities to certain transgenic rodents, extends life by an amount that, when extrapolated from rodent-years to human-years, is statistically significant. Human trials will be planned; venture capital will flow like red wine; extremely long podcasts will be recorded. Obscure herbs that contain molecules distantly related to the breakthrough will flood the Internet. The global wellness market will reach a projected size of $6.6 trillion. Life expectancy in the United States will continue its decade-long decline.
–Alex Hutchinson, Outside Sweat Science columnist and author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
The Slow Running Movement Will Continue to Grow
For too long, runners at the back of the pack have felt left behind by the larger running community. Few running clubs provided support for the 12-minute (or more) mile crowd, and many race organizers packed up water stations or ran out of medals before the slowest runners crossed the finish line. Thankfully, this is beginning to change, largely due to the work of slow-running activists like Martinus Evans, founder of the Slow AF Run Club, who published a book by the same name last summer. As Evans’s star has risen, so has support for his cause: The virtual club is now more than 18,000 members strong, and runners around the world have been inspired by his calls for greater inclusivity in fitness. The past few years have also seen the launch of several in-person pace-inclusive running groups. As more slow runners feel welcome at running events, the average course time for many major races, including the New York City Marathon, is slowing down. “The stigma of being a back-of-the-pack runner is slowly going away,” the marathon’s race director, Ted Metellus, recently told The Washington Post. Most of us face plenty of barriers to simply lacing up sneakers and finding the time to move. I’m hopeful that, for growing numbers, speed will no longer be one of them.
—Danielle Friedman, journalist and author of Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
We’ll Stop Overcomplicating What It Means to Live Well
Amidst the increasing chaos and tumult of everyday life, people will crave stability and simplicity from their health and fitness routines. There will never be a shortage of those who are into the latest fad or bro-science gimmick, but it seems more and more people are becoming tired of this. There is already so much noise in the world, and one’s health and fitness approach need not contribute to it. I suspect it’ll increasingly be back to basics—because not only do basics work, but they aren’t so exhausting. Out with the social media hype speeches from $8,000 cold plunges at five in the morning, in with a morning pot of coffee or tea, reading a book, and 30 to 60 minutes of movement that you can do consistently. The former sounds cool. The latter is the path to actual health and well-being.
—Brad Stulberg, executive coach and author of Master of Change: How to Excel When Everything is Changing, Including You
We’ll Reach Peak Marathon Majors
Social media can have an unfortunate flattening effect—it can feel like every person on your feed wants the exact same thing. Angels Landing is the only hike worth doing, Yosemite the only public land worth visiting, and the six big-city marathon “majors”—New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo—are the only footraces worth contending. Interest in these races has boomed (Boston qualification keeps getting harder, lottery applications to Chicago have more than doubled over the last decade) even as smaller marathons stagnate or even decline. Something has to give, just as a matter of pure arithmetic, so perhaps this will be the year of flexing on your followers with a PR in your local grassroots 10K.
–Chris Cohen, deputy site editor and wellness editor at GQ.com
We’ll See Unstructured Play for Adults
Everyone is lonely. We are starved for human connection and contact. We are starved for reasons to go outside. We are all withering and calcifying, physically. The natural answer is, of course, stay with me, PvP zones. What is a PvP zone, you ask? PvP zones, in open-world video games, are designated areas where players are able to directly interface with—OK, attack—one another. I do not mean for there to be actual violence, obviously. But a place for adults to engage in relatively unstructured play? We need it, now more than ever. I see you shaking your head, but that only proves how badly you need to engage with your fellow humans in a PvP zone. You may think I’m joking, but I am entirely serious. I take my dog to the dog park, and then I sit there roiling with jealousy for 45 minutes. How is it that we have a place for her, a dog, to get up to shenanigans with her fellows, while the only acceptable thing for me to do outside is sit on a bench? It’s preposterous. I, we, have basically all the same needs as a dog for play and exercise and, most importantly, fun with others. We are grown adults. We should, theoretically, be allowed to do whatever we want. Why is “goofing around in parks” the provenance of only dogs and children? Why are we not allowed to do some good old-fashioned light roughhousing, to chase one another in and out of trees, just because it’s fun and funny only if you, very crucially, don’t think about why or what for at all? If you are thinking “You’re just describing jiu jitsu class, or recreational softball”: sort of. But the most crucial aspect of the PvP zone is that it’s structureless, a place where no one loses and skill doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone would argue that many of us think entirely too much now. Perhaps the solution to all of our ills is to just designate an area of our parks where it is acceptable to go up to another person you don’t know and say “tag, you are it” and then run away. PvP zones. It could, and should, and by my estimation will, happen.
—Casey Johnston, creator of the She’s a Beast newsletter
A Greater Focus on Preemptive Solutions Will Help Us Spend Less on Healthcare
A combination of sustainable lifestyle changes and personalized solutions will reimagine sick care. I think health spending will shift from reactive to proactive care in the coming decades. More movement and healthy food should be the first line of defense. Building on that foundation, health trackers, preventative diagnostics, and coaching/care platforms will help save the U.S. healthcare system trillions of dollars in the long run.
—Anthony Vennare, co-founder of the Fitt Insider newsletter
Low-Intensity Workouts Will Have (Another) Resurgence
People have come around to the fact that shorter workouts still have benefits (see exercise snacks!) and that high intensity workouts do not have to be long. What we are going to see next is the swell of lower intensity workouts having a lap in the spotlight. More men taking Pilates, people walking, lower intensity steady state exercise (Zone 2 and otherwise), and wanting to feel better instead of just being fitter. As millennials’ life responsibilities start to pile-up as this cohort of individuals who were born into the wellness boom continue to age, the wear and tear that intense workouts have on the body will rear its head. Additionally, people are starting to understand more of the science behind benefits of lower intensity steady state work, especially for the heart. The “soft life” mindset will show up in the gym.
—Joe Holder, founder of The Ocho System and GQ wellness columnist
Medical Breakthroughs Will Be Balanced With Common Sense Solutions
We’re at a point where I think we’re going to have to redefine how we see health and wellness in a number of ways. On the one hand, we’re going to have to reckon with the environment we’ve created. There’s an increasing acknowledgement that having phones everywhere, at all times, is causing some disastrous mental health in teens and young adults. And for the rest of us, the impact of neglecting green space, parks, walkable areas, and so much more in our day-to-day living is setting us up to fail. On the other hand, the promise of medical discoveries like GLP-1 drugs bring much needed avenues for meaningful change. The first legitimate drug for obesity will force us to wrestle with how we see health, from both a personal and medicalized approach. My hope is that we find ourselves wrestling with the nuance in the middle, finding ways to utilize medical breakthroughs, while creating an avenue for long-term sustainability by making our environment invite healthier actions.
—Steve Magness, track and field coach at the University of Houston, coauthor of The Passion Paradox and Peak Performance, and cofounder of The Growth Equation
The Era of “Not Too Sweet” Will Continue to Gain Traction
Growing up in an Asian-American family, the greatest compliment anyone in my family could give about a dessert was, “it’s not too sweet.” This aversion to cloying sweetness, which was hard coded into my palate from a young age, has caught on with the mainstream. Starting with long overdue realignment of the soda industry toward sparkling water as the hero, to the continued rise in popularity of Asian food with its greater emphasis on savory over sweet, to the all-too-common experience of asking your server for a wine recommendation that’s “on the drier side,” sweetness continues to be marginalized. But while sugar has been demonized for decades from a nutritional standpoint, eaters are now reducing sugar intake for purely taste reasons, not just health ones. Even people who aren’t militant about avoiding sugar are moderating it because they want to actually taste their food, not have their taste buds smothered in a wave of sweetness. And with rising negative sentiment around the healthfulness of artificial sweeteners and the general affinity for more unadulterated foods, diets in 2024 and beyond might not only continue to reduce sugar levels, but whatever small amounts of sugar they do eat will come from natural sources, not synthetic ones.
—Mike Lee, Founder of The Future Market, a trend forecasting company for the food industry
We’ll Start Biohacking Our Beach Vacations
You used to have to go to a sterile clinic to get a longevity boost with Vitamin IV drips and stem cell therapy but resorts are now partnering with longevity centers to offer onsite treatments. Guests at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea can get a poolside NAD+ IV drip. Katikies Kirini in Santorini now has an outpost of a ZOE Bio Regenerative Wellness Clinic where guests can get live blood analysis. And Six Senses Ibiza has partnered with biotech company RoseBar to offer guests full diagnostic testing that can inform biohack treatments like localized cryotherapy.
—Jen Murphy, Outside contributor and longtime fitness columnist for the Wall Street Journal
There Will Be a New Trendy Booze
I think in 2024 sotol will take over from mezcal as the “it” cocktail. Cheers!
–Rowan Jacobsen, Outside contributor and author of A Geography of Oysters