Each year comes with its own unique brand of health trends. Some wind up being passing fad diets, while others prove surprisingly on point. The key to healthy living is knowing which trends are worth your time. To that end, here are the year's shape-up and slim-down trends we'd like to forget—and the ones we hope will stick around into 2014.
Whatever your favorite workout—be it Zumba, spinning, yoga, or jogging—you can now probably do it in a pool near you. And it's not just for show. By getting your sweat on in the water, you eliminate the joint-jolting and tiring impact of many exercises while adding all-over resistance for greater strength and weight-loss gains, according to the Stockholm University College of Physical Education and Sports. Bonus: People who do pool exercises enjoy their workouts more than those who stick to dry land, per research from Baylor University Medical Center.
Best: Fun runs
Whether it involves running through foam-covered obstacles or getting splattered with colored powder, fun runs have it right: Fun is the ultimate motivator, according to Edward L. Deci, PhD, a motivational researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. People who work out for the pure joy of working out rather than for a result (think: lose those last five pounds) actually stick with workouts longer and reap better results, he says. So grab your girlfriends and sign up!
Somewhere between PETA's annual list of the sexiest vegan celebs and renowned food writer Mark Bittman's VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…for Good, 2013 became the year of the vegan. Vegans tend to be thinner and have lower cholesterol and blood pressure than omnivores and vegetarians alike, according to a 2009 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. If you want to try an animal-product-free lifestyle—even just part time— make sure you get enough protein daily, advises Martica Heaner PhD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist based in New York City.
Best: Hybrid yoga
Ropes, hula-hoops, kickboxing moves, and even trampolines made their way into the yoga studio this year—and the combination caters to more than your attention span, says Melissa diLeonardo, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and a Life Fitness Master Trainer. By integrating non-yoga moves into your routine, you can train a wider variety of muscles for better total-body sculpting.
Best: Bike-sharing programs
Now, in dozens of cities across the United States, exercise can actually save you time. So bypass traffic and get a bike pass: One four-year study of 822 adults found that bike commuters gain less weight over the years than car commuters. Besides toning your legs, increasing your heart rate, and strengthening your core, biking can seriously boost your energy. One study in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that biking decreases fatigue by 65%.
Best: Playground workouts
Girls (even grown ones) just want to have fun! And playground workouts—from adult playground fitness parks across California to the jungle gym-inspired Synrgy360 stations in gyms—are designed to help them have just that. "As adults, we just don't play enough. Play is good for your body and mind. These workouts give us an opportunity to let loose and explore new ways of burning calories while having fun," diLeonardo says. Plus, with bars for climbing, ropes for pulling, and platforms for jumping, playground workouts strengthen your entire body through natural, multi-joint exercises to improve your fitness both in and out of the gym.
Best: Exercise-specific footwear
Shoe fanatics, rejoice! Now stores stock Zumba, indoor cycling, and even CrossFit shoes—and they do more than make you look like a pro. "Footwear designed for specific activities can help improve performance and provide additional support when executing certain movement patterns," diLeonardo says. For example, shoes designed for dance-inspired classes generally have more lateral support and less tread so you don't twist your knee mid-spin. If you are starting a new class, talk to your instructor about the right footwear for the exercises involved.
Best: Intermittent fasting
The Fast Diet, The IF Diet, and The 5:2 Diet might sound like gimmicks, and they are definitely unintuitive, but a 2013 review in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease suggests that fasting diets not only aid in weight loss but actually may help people with cardiovascular disease by decreasing inflammation, reducing blood pressure, and improving blood sugar and triglyceride levels. The key is following a healthy protocol, as some can lead to a binge-purge mentality, says dietician Alexandra Caspero, RD, owner of weight-management and sports-nutrition service delicious-knowledge. She advises talking to a nutritionist or healthcare provider to find the one that's right for you.