TIME Exercise/Fitness

Introducing the One-Minute Workout

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You no longer have any excuses

We get it, you’re busy. But it turns out you don’t need very much time in the gym to improve your health. In fact, it might only take one—yes one—high intensity minute of exercise to do the trick.

New research published in the journal PLOS One shows sedentary men and women who did one minute of intense, all-out exercise as part of a full 10-minute workout three times a week for six weeks improved their endurance and lowered their blood pressure.

A total of 14 sedentary and overweight men and women agreed to have their muscles biopsied and their aerobic endurance and blood pressure and sugar levels measured by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario. Then, they hopped on stationary bikes and warmed up for two minutes. After the warmup, the participants biked as hard as they possibly could for three 20 second intervals followed by two minutes of slow pedaling. They ended with a three minute cool-down, adding up to a total of 10 minutes. They did this three times a week, coming out to 30 minutes of exercise a week.

After six weeks, the participants were measured again, and the researchers discovered the they improved their endurance levels by about 12%, had better blood pressure levels, and improved muscle activity. The men in the group also had improved blood sugar levels.

MORE: Short bursts of exercise are better than exercising nonstop

This isn’t the first time researchers from McMaster University have touted the positive effects of short bursts of high-tensity exercise. Martin Gibala, the chairman of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, has spent years studying the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and whether it’s equally beneficial as moderate exercise over a longer period. In fact, high intensity interval training has become somewhat of a mainstay in the fitness circuit, many also crediting Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata for coming up with the The Tabata Protocol: 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of resting, repeated many times.

The problem with high intensity intervals is that, well, it can suck. It’s truly hard to really get your body to that level of intensity, especially if you’re not in tip top shape. Even proponents of the seven-minute workout say: “Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant.”

Critics of short spurt workouts—the seven-minute workout is a popular version—argue that while some exercise is better than no exercise, more is usually better and people who really need to exercise like the elderly and people who are overweight, might find it too difficult or even dangerous.

That’s why the researchers decided to investigate just how short they could cut the workout to and still get some of the same health benefits, The New York Times reports. As it turns out, you really can gain a fitness advantage from a short period of time. People will gain more or less from the workout based on their starting level of fitness, and most exercise enthusiasts recommend mixing up your routine over doing the same workout everyday to avoid injuries and work different muscles. But if you hit snooze one too many times, rest assured you can still get in a quality workout in less time than you may think.

Read next: 5 Fitness Trends to Try in 2015

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Fitness Trends to Try in 2015

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The next big thing? Body weight training

Curious about what’s going to be hot in the wellness sphere next year? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We put our sneakers to the ground to find out what fitness trends could be making their way into your gym in 2015. Happy sweating.

Body weight training

According to an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) survey of more than 3,000 fitness professionals worldwide, body weight training is predicted to be the next big thing. “Expect to see it continue to expand in all movement experiences including both group and personal training,” says Carol Espel, Senior Director, Group Fitness and Pilates at Equinox. “Look for the comprehensive incorporation of gymnastics, adult jungle gyms, workout spaces that are uncluttered with weight machines and open for training, greater suspension training options, primal movements, and more programming that is less focused on standard weight lifting protocols.” In other words, those tried and true exercises that don’t require equipment—like lunges, squats, push-ups, and burpees—are here to stay, so embrace them.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

OK, HIIT (think P90X) did take a hit over the past year dropping from the number one spot on the 2013 ACSM survey to number two this year. But we assure you that this technique, which alternates intense bursts of exercise with short, sometimes active, recovery periods, isn’t going anywhere. The reason: It’s super effective. “People are exercising in shorter bursts and they are still seeing results,” notes Donna Cyrus, Senior Vice President of Programming at Crunch. This should be no surprise, though. After all, who wants to slave away at the gym for hours each day when you can blast fat in as little as 20 minutes? Exactly.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Fitness Foods to Help You Get in Shape Faster

Treadmill training

Boutique studios that specialize in one specific fitness genre—be it underwater cycling or trampoline workouts—will continue to rise in popularity. However, within this group fitness sector, indoor group running has been steadily gaining momentum. From big gym chains like Equinox and Crunch to smaller studios like Mile High Run Club, treadmill-based training is poised to become the new “it” workout. Yes, many view this piece of machinery as a torture device (I know I’ve called it a dreadmill on more than one occasion), but these classes are truly beneficial, helping to improve your running through speed, incline, and interval-based drills.

“There is a trend in fitness to return to simplicity, and running is the oldest form of exercise,” explains Andia Winslow, a fitness expert and coach at Mile High Running Club. “With indoor treadmill training, participants are in a controlled and yet challenging environment where they can, regardless of fitness level, keep up with class while running on industry elite commercial equipment. With less strain on bones, joints and tendons, runners can focus instead on form, specialized and programmed intensity and being wholly engaged with their runs.” Even better: You will never have to worry about it being too cold or raining too hard to log those miles.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Moves to Tone Your Butt, Thighs, and Legs

Recovery efforts

Don’t you just love a super intense workout? The way it pushes you to your limits, leaving behind a reminder (read: sore muscles) of all the hard work you put in. Here’s the deal, though, too much intense training can throw your body out of whack, leaving it open for potential injuries, which is why recovery is essential. “A balanced body is key, which means all of your muscles are working correctly, not just some of them,” says David Reavy, PT, owner of React Physical Therapy and creator of the Reavy Method. “Weak muscles will fatigue quickly, and you over train muscles that are already strong. The compensation and overuse of muscles and not the work brings the need for recovery.” This is why “we will continue to see the rapid expansion of group formats that include self-care protocols for self myofascial release (SMR), such as foam rolling and therapy balls, core strengthening and dynamic stretching, full recovery days and clear focus on sleep as an integral part of one’s fitness regimen,” says Espel. “And of course restorative yoga formats will continue to become a much more prevalent part of programming.”

HEALTH.COM: 10 Exercise Cheats That Blow Your Calorie Burn

Digital engagement

In our tech-obsessed world, this one seems like a no-brainer. Just take Nike, for example: I learned at their Women’s Summit last month that 9 million women have downloaded the Nike Running app and 16 million women have downloaded the Nike Training (NTC) app. And that’s just one company—think about all of the other fitness apps and cool trackers out there that put a wealth of health info at our fingertips. The reason we’re still obsessed with these modalities is because “they provide inspiration, guidance and coaching,” explained Stefan Olander, VP of Digital Sport for Nike at the summit. Not to mention the social factor. Adds Espel: “We will continue so see an even greater level of engagement of the use of multiple devices to track and log movement, nutrition, sleep and all aspects of activity,” she says. “The challenge for all will be determining what data is pertinent and then how providers and health care experts take the most relevant information and make it continually meaningful to users.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Why Running May Really Be The Fountain of Youth

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Elderly people who run show similar fitness to 20-year-olds

Older people who run several times a week actually expend the same amount of energy when they walk as a 20-year-old, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and Humboldt State University picked 30 healthy older volunteer adults around age 69 who either walked or ran regularly for exercise. The participants walked on a treadmill at the speeds 1.6 mph, 2.8 mph, and 3.9 mph while their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production were measured.

People who were runners had similar energy intake to a group of young adults in their 20s from a prior study. However, those elderly men and women who regularly walked did not see that same benefit, and expended up to 22% more energy than the younger crowd.

That could be because runners have better muscle efficiency compared to walkers, or because more vigorous exercise may better train the body. But it doesn’t mean that walking doesn’t have its share of health perks. Walkers still experienced a lower risk for ailments like heart disease and depression.

The researchers say more studies should look at the link between exercise and the effects of age on the body. The authors write that it’s unknown whether there is “an intensity threshold of aerobic exercise that is needed to prevent the decline in walking economy.” But that knowledge could be useful in preventing some of the degenerative side effects of old age.

TIME Obesity

You Exercise Less When You Think Life Isn’t Fair

The 'why try' effect gets in the way of weight loss

People who have been the target of weight discrimination—and who believe the practice is widespread—are more likely to give up on exercise than to try to lose weight, according to a new study published in Health Psychology.

The online study of more than 800 Americans specifically looked at whether participants believed in “a just world,” or in this case, the belief that their positive actions will lead to good results. People who experienced weight bias in the past and didn’t believe in a just world were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise than those who did believe the world is just. In a separate part of the study, participants primed with anecdotes designed to suggest that the world is unjust were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise.

Experiencing discrimination leads some people to adopt a pessimistic view of the world, and they accept negative stereotypes about themselves, including the belief that they’re lazy, said study author Rebecca Pearl. “When someone feels bad about themselves and is applying negative stereotypes to themselves, they give up on their goals,” said Pearl, a researcher at Yale University, referring to a phenomenon known as the “why try” effect.

It’s an area of conflicting research. Some previous studies found that weight discrimination leads to weight loss, while others concluded that weight discrimination discourages exercise. Belief in a just world may be the factor that distinguishes between the two, Pearl said. People who think their exercise will pay off are more likely to try.

Because believing in a just world is key to losing weight, Pearl said that legislation and other public policy efforts could act as a “buffer against loss of sense of fairness.”

“It’s important for doctors to be aware of what people are experiencing, to know that these experiences might have real effects on people’s confidence,” Pearl said.

MONEY Health Care

The Hidden Financial Benefits of Keeping Yourself Fit

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Geir Pettersen—Getty Images

Investing in fitness can generate financial rewards as well as health benefits.

You know exercise is good for you. What you may not know is that working out can have financial benefits too.

Plenty of research suggests that overweight people spend more on health care, but it’s not just the thin who stand to save. Fact is, regardless of your weight, if you’re a couch potato you’re likely missing out on earning and saving opportunities.

The Payoff in Your Paycheck

Health care costs aren’t the only way physical activity is a benefit. People who work out regularly, as in at least three times per week, are more productive at work than those who don’t, according to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Those who get sufficient exercise also miss fewer workdays, according to the same study. Those absences can translate to lost income and lost opportunities for advancement.

Another study published in the Journal of Labor Research found that men who work out regularly can expect to make 6% more than their sedentary counterparts, on average. For women, the pay boost is higher: Fitness-savvy females make 10% more, on average.

A Nudge From the Boss

If you’re not already working out, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to start.

For starters, some employers just flat-out pay their employees to work out as part of workplace wellness initiatives. For example, IBM offers cash to employees who meet certain fitness goals. Employees at Google and Zappos can use on-site fitness classes and facilities, enabling them to skip membership fees at traditional gyms. Even if your company doesn’t currently offer wellness benefits, it might soon: Under the Affordable Care Act, employers can receive grants to get one started.

Your employer may have a deal worked out with a local gym where employees can get discounted rates. Even if your company doesn’t offer such an incentive, chances are that your health insurance provider does. UnitedHealthcare offers reimbursements of $20 per month to members who use one of many participating gyms, while Blue Cross Blue Shield has worked out a $25 membership fee for their members at over 8,000 gyms nationwide. These insurance giants aren’t the only ones in on the game—most health care insurers offer some type of fitness benefit for members.

Just Do It

On the other hand, skipping the gym altogether may be your biggest money saver. If a participating fitness center isn’t available near you, or you’re just not the gym-going type, there are plenty of ways to get in shape for free. You can use the myriad online videos in the comfort and privacy of your own home, such as those offered on Bodyrock.TV or YouTube’s workout channel. If you like mobile apps, try Daily Workouts free app, or iPump. If you’re close with your co-workers you can start a lunchtime walking group. Your boss may just end up rewarding you for it.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care and lower their medical bills.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Reasons to Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

Why you shouldn't give up the gym

Despite conventional calorie-burning wisdom, some people appear to not lose weight when they exercise, says a new study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In fact, some actually gain weight, and it’s not all muscle mass.

The study, by Arizona State University in Phoenix researchers, looked at 81 sedentary, overweight women who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes in a lab. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that some women lost weight while others gained weight. But when they tried to identify what was causing the differences, they couldn’t come to any conclusions. “In reality, most people do not achieve or sustain weight loss, no matter what method they try,” wrote New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds on Wednesday.

Basically, major bummer. But there are many other reasons to exercise besides trying to shed a few pounds, and they’re equally important for your health:

1. Memory Loss: Chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances are a couple of factors that can play a part in memory loss, and exercise can help both. Exercise promotes better blood flow through the body, and the brain works better with a healthy blood supply. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that people who spent time on a stationary bike had better memory recall than those who were sedentary.

2. Stress: Exercise has long been prescribed as a way to burn off steam and relax. It’s even recommended as a way to fight depression. How? Exercise keeps the brain occupied, and keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check which can lower symptoms for anxiety and restlessness, according to The Exercise Cure, by sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl. After a rough day at work or before a big exam or interview, even just a walk around the block can ease nerves.

3. Fatigue: It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can actually make you less tired than skipping the gym. A 2007 University of Georgia study showed that sedentary people could lower their fatigue by 65% if they started engaging in regular low intensity exercise. Increasing energy through exercise is also a safer and cheaper alternative to turning to quick fixes like energy drinks.

4. Cardiovascular disease: Getting regular exercise does the heart some good. In a 2012 study, researchers found that people who partook in moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking compared to leisurely walking reduced their chances of developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The effect might be related to exercise’s benefits on lowering inflammation in the body.

5. Lower back pain: Back pain is a very common ailment, and studies have shown that the right kind of exercises like strength training can lower pain. Exercise is also one of the simplest ways to protect your body from future injuries.

 

TIME Apple

3 Features a Nike-Apple Wearable Absolutely Must Have

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Apple's wearable will target fitness nuts. Here's what it has to be able to do—with Nike's help

Nike and Apple have had a special relationship since 2006 when the companies announced a partnership that created a sports-oriented ecosystem around iPods and Nike running shoes. Since then iPods and iPhones have been tightly integrated with Nike+, the Portland-based sports giant’s activity- and exercise-tracking social network. (Apple CEO Tim Cook is also on Nike’s board of directors.)

Now they may be working together to improve wearables. In an Oct. 22 interview with Bloomberg, Nike CEO Mark Parker said he is “bullish” on the two firms’ joint ambitions. He went on to explain:

As I look ahead at what’s possible with Nike and Apple…technologically we can do things together that we couldn’t do independently. So yeah, that’s part of our plan, is to expand the whole digital frontier in terms of wearables and go from 25 million Nike+ users to hundreds of millions.

Expanding the wearables “frontier” is likely to start with Apple’s upcoming Watch, which will go on sale sometime early next year. The device will pack sensors that can not only track movement, but differentiate between types of exercise as well as capture the heart rate of the person wearing it.

When Apple showed off the device earlier this year, executives emphasized its fitness applications. (The company hired Nike’s former design director last year to work on wearable devices.) And during the keynote, a Nike-branded app for the Watch was shown briefly.

What could the two companies be working on? Impossible to say. But here are three features I hope they build into whatever it is they are doing together.

Intelligent music management. Nike’s iPod and iPhone apps have always been able to control music playback. Some versions have also included a “power song” feature—a user designated tune intended to motivate through crunch time. Apple’s Watch will also be able to control music playback through a connected iPhone. But, as far as exercising goes, this is all uber-basic.

Even better would be to be able to generate playlists automatically based on track BPMs, a.k.a the speed of each song, and the desired intensity of a given workout. So, for instance, for an easy recovery run, a set of slower-paced songs might be strung together. Similarly, correlating personal performance data with listening history could yield interesting insights, such as you run your best splits to “X” album or “Y” artist.

Additional sports. This is an easy one. Despite forays into other sports, Nike’s apps have been strongest on running. With the integration of a connected phone’s WiFi and GPS data, a wearable app should be compatible with a wider array of sports. Cycling and golf are two obvious ones—with the device tracking performance for the former sport and location and weather conditions for the later.

Deeper social integration. According to this summer’s keynote presentation, Nike’s Apple Watch app will allow you to challenge friends to runs, much like its software currently does. But the Watch’s so-called “taptic” feedback—small vibrations and audio cues that simulate a gentle tap on the wrist—open up new opportunities.

For example: recording and trading “ghosts” for runs that would gently let you know when you’re outpacing or falling behind a friend on a run of a similar distance or course. Or, if two users both have watches, they might be able to swap route information, say, a favorite place to run, using the Watch’s built in communications.

TIME health

4 Ways Health Tracking Apps Can Change Your Life

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Virtually every kind of digital program or app we use is modeled on an analog predecessor. Spreadsheets are the digital iteration of accountant logs, and word processing software is modeled off the good-ol’ sheet of paper. We’re human after all, and we’ve always used record-keeping to help deal with uncertainty and the unknown. Now, throw clever entrepreneurial activity into the mix, and you’ve got some of the most helpful, beefed-up quantified self tools on the market. Being able to track exact data in the ways that apps have enabled us to is one of the most modern ways of curtailing the worries that come with personal data guestimation. Tracking our lives may not be a new concept, but it’s certainly shinier. Here’s how our quest to conquer our own data has evolved on a variety of fronts.

Fertility

Before: bare bones calendars, pee sticks, or the pull-out method that seventh grade sex-ed rightfully taught us to avoid (personal shout out to my teacher who made us all think that a foreskin looked like the sleeve of her chenille sweater).

Now: Apps like Clue track important signs of fertility cycles like discharge consistency, fertility windows, menstrual regularity, and of course, attempts at fertilization. On a calendar interface, handy color-coordinated graphics display those quantifiable elements in a cohesive, easily digestible visual. In a world divided over the necessity of women’s health initiatives, it feels empowering to be in tune with cycles — a knowledge that provides transparency in regard to the way our reproductive systems function in our daily lives. Tracking the minutiae that apps allow takes this empowerment and the decision-making to a greater level of security and certainty in the things our bodies are doing.

(MORE: 5 Period Tracking Apps)

Exercise

Before: the Casio stopwatch whose memory will live on in the minds of all who consumed electronics in the ’80s and ’90s. If you don’t remember them, we suggest you watch WarGames to see what kind of technology impressed us then.

Now: Anything we do with our bodies is better when customized, and exercise is no exception. We may suck at some sports, and be incredible at others. This is why the vast array of exercise apps are so exciting. Are you sedentary, and feeling lost on where to start? Apps like Couch-to-5K teach you techniques from square one, keeping track of progress and goals. Are you a seasoned pro who wants to streamline outings? Other apps like RunKeeper serve as simultaneous timekeepers and route-mappers. Tracking the very personal activity that is exercise provides a level of support that could be equated to that of a coach. Literally — many apps have pre-programmed motivational comments that are set to play at various intervals in a workout.

Food

Before: a dog-eared, Weight Watchers-inspired logbook with only the most basic functions of food tracking in the layout. Oh, and a separate book was needed with a list of foods and their proprietary nutrition information.

Now: The most central function is the same across the board. A list of food and meals are entered into their respective breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack slots, and their calories, fats, and proteins, and other important nutrients are tracked. But, instead of shuffling through pages of small guidebooks, a food item’s nutritional information can be sourced through vast databases of restaurant and grocery store goods, as well as preset listings for favorite meals. There’s even barcode scanners for the elusive few items that aren’t listed. These features are standard in apps like MyPlate and LoseIt — and are great even if you’re not trying to lose weight. Tracking food means that we can keep an eye on some of the details about ingredients or sustainability that both greatly affect our health, yet often manage to slip through the cracks.

(MORE: 10 Fitness Apps That Get Results)

Medical Conditions

Before: regular, often-expensive trips to the doctor’s office or crossing your fingers and hoping that apple a day actually contains immune-boosting properties.

Now: Medical tracking — which has been around since the days Bayer enabled diabetics to measure their own glucose levels — goes beyond the level of personal empowerment seen on other fronts to a place that’s vital to our very existence. Having real-time data about the state of our physical existence is a way to catch health hiccups before they become emergencies; this helps to maintain a top quality of life. With fewer guestimations and more exact data, we know when to act and when to relax. Of course, if something really seems off, seeing a professional is still your best bet. But, having the ability to keep tabs on things like sleep cycle measurements or medicine dosages puts more control in the hands of the patient herself, which means less time spent on some of the more menial medical checkups. Even the original diabetes tracking methods have seen a spiffy new user interface on mobile apps.

(MORE: These Apps Just Might Be the Future of Beauty)

TIME health

Why So Many Women Are Crying at the Gym

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For a generation of stressed-out working women, exercise is as much about emotional release as it is physical training.

“Let it out! Let out the sludge!”

It’s 7am on a Tuesday, at a small dance studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Taryn Toomey is stomping her feet into the floor like thunder. “Get rid of the bullsh*t!” she shouts. “Get rid of the drama!”

Two dozen women in yoga pants and sports bras sprint in place behind her, eyes closed, arms flailing. Sweat is flying. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is blaring in the background. There are grunts and screams. “Hell yes!” a woman bellows.

When the song ends, Toomey directs the group into child’s pose, torso folded over the knees, forehead on the floor, arms spread forward. Coldplay comes on, and there is a moment of rest. “Inhale. Exhale. Feel your center,” Toomey says. Heads slowly come up, and suddenly, tears are streaming down the faces of half the room. A woman in front of me is physically trembling. “I just let it all out,” a middle-aged woman in leggings and a tank top whispers.

This is “The Class”—one part yoga, two parts bootcamp, three parts emotional release, packaged into an almost spiritual… no, tribal… 75 minutes. It is the creation of fashion exec turned yoga instructor Toomey, and it is where New York’s high-flying women go for emotional release (if, that is, they can get a spot).

“During my first class I didn’t just cry, I sobbed,” says McKenzie Hayes, a 22-year-old New Yorker who has become a regular in the class. “Whether it’s your job or your relationships, I literally picture my emotional problems being slowly unstuck from my body and moved out.”

Toomey calls that “sludge”: it’s the emotional baggage we carry in our muscles that has nowhere else to go. She’s not a doctor. But week after week, she encourages participants to sweat, scream and cry out those emotions, in the company of a group of mostly women who are doing the same. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” Toomey says. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”

Indeed, the message to women has long been to hide your tears lest you look weak. (Among the tactics: jutting out your jaw. Breathing exercises. Chewing gum. Drinking water.) Yet while crying in the office may remain a feminine faux pas, tears at the gym seem to have lost their stigma — to the extent that there are a bevy of fitness courses that even encourage it.

For Asie Mohtarez, a Brooklyn makeup artist, it began in hot yoga. The music was on, the floor was warm, the instructor was standing over her encouraging her to let go. “I was in child’s pose and I just lost it,” she says. Then, two weeks later, it happened again – this time at Physique 57. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on and it was waterworks again. “There’s something about these classes that feel safe,” says the 33-year-old. “I can’t cry at work. I’m not emotionally distraught enough to cry in the shower. I can’t just burst into tears in front of my husband. So, what does that leave you with?”

You could go to therapy – or you could hit the gym. Women are getting teary in SoulCycle, and misty-eyed at Pure Barre. They are letting out wails in yoga and rubbing the shoulder of the weepy woman next to them at CrossFit. “I think people have started to notice that their clients are just showing up to class and just unloading, and so they’re tailoring their classes to create space for this,” says Hayes, who is a pilates instructor by day. “When I take private clients I end up feeling like a therapist for them.”

These fitness instructors aren’t trained in that, of course. But they’ve probably been there.

“I usually just go over to the student after class and quietly ask how they’re feeling,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles who sees criers often. “My classes are focused on release so it feels pretty natural.”

Physiologically, it is: Exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that impact mood. In yoga, deep hip openers – like the “pigeon pose” – are meant to stir emotions (yogis believe our emotional baggage lives in our hips).

But many of the newer courses are specifically choreographed to release emotion, too – making it all that much more intense. The lights are dim, candles flicker in the background. It’s not an accident that just as you’re starting to relax, coming down from the adrenaline, you’re blasted with a throaty ballad. Those playlists are meticulously constructed. “I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years, so I’ve basically seen it all: crying, laughing, throwing up, overheating,” says Stacey Griffith, a Soul Cycle instructor. “There are moments in the class that are directly programmed for that reason – but it’s not like we’re trying to get people to cry. We’re giving them the space to step outside of themselves.”

And indeed, that may be necessary. We’re busier, more stressed and more connected than we’ve ever been. Simply finding the time to have that “space” can be near impossible, making the release that these courses offer – packaged neatly into an hour – a kind of fix. “The night before, I can’t wait,” says Hayes of Toomey’s class. “I already know what will be the flood that I’m working through. And sometimes conversations with friends just don’t cut it.”

Getting those emotions out is a good thing – at least in moderation. Emotional tears contain manganese, potassium, and a hormone called prolactin, which help lower cholesterol, control high blood and boost the immune system. Crying reduces stress, and, according to one study, from the University of Minnesota, actually improves the mood of nearly 90 percent of people who do it. “You really do feel lighter after,” says Hayes.

“To me, it’s a sign of being present, it’s a sign of feeling your feelings, of being in the moment,” says Toomey, just after “the class” has ended. Plus, shoulder to shoulder in a hot room, there is almost a sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie. “I so needed this,” a woman tells her on the way out, with a hug. And, of course, with that much sweat, the tears are almost hidden anyway.

Read next: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

TIME health

I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

Exercise equipment
Fuse—Getty Images/Fuse

I didn’t fail a fitness test. I failed at being thin

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

After years of teaching yoga and exercise, I signed up to take a fitness test. I wanted to test my chops and be a guinea pig for my boss to learn the test protocol. I pedaled on the spin bike: stellar cardio. I easily touched my toes: excellent flexibility. I bench pressed for max reps: my strength was off the chart. Then in a private office, I took my clothes off for body fat testing.

The spiky caliper pinched my belly, hip, triceps, and thigh. I played off the discomfort with jokes about “plenty of cushion for the pushin’.” The results determined that I was 13% over the recommended body fat. Not what I wanted to hear.

It felt like a slap in the face, another reminder of being last picked for the dodge ball team and the “why bother if you’re fat” attitude.

Growing up a chubby kid, I learned this attitude. By junior high, I quit sports and dance, opting for watching reruns on the couch after school. When I found yoga in my 20s, it was the first time exercise actually felt good. I eventually started to teach and ended up losing 30 pounds.

But after all those times I chose salad and dragged my least-stinky sports bra out of the hamper, this test said I was overweight. With these results I had three choices:

1) Pursue the test’s standard. Restrict my eating, amp up my workouts, or find more extreme means of weight loss.

2) Throw in the towel and accept that I would never get “in shape.”

3) Realize that the test might be bogus.

At the time of the assessment, I was studying nutrition in a graduate program, shopping at the farmers’ market, and relishing the Bay Area foodie scene. My diet didn’t need an overhaul. I’ve never been willing to count calories or jump on trendy dietary bandwagons. Between yoga, cardio and strength training, I exercised with consistency, variability and enthusiasm. As I walked out of the gym, I realized that I rocked all the actual measures of fitness.

I didn’t fail a fitness test. I failed at being thin. Luckily, my grad school curriculum also included a course on the “Health at Every Size” philosophy that questions measures like the Body Mass Index and our relentless pursuit of skinny. HAES advocates for intuitive eating and pleasurable movement — exactly how I lost weight. But according to the test, where my body had settled wasn’t low enough.

HAES made me question the test and the self-loathing landmine of the fitness industry. Every day during gym orientations I heard about fitness goals and the promised land of thin. Women pinched their “trouble zones” and insulted their “flabby arms,” “muffin tops” and “thunder thighs.” Would the caliper testing lacquer on more self-hatred? The test ignores an important reality: self-loathing thwarts our every move.

Now teaching for over 11 years, I focus on movement instead of body shape or weight loss. I finished my graduate degree, have a pile of certifications, and can hurl a 50 pound kettlebell overhead. I’m proud that I never went overboard. I never careened into disordered eating, overuse injuries, or adrenal fatigue. This is actually rare in my field.

The caliper would have less of me to pinch these days but it would probably still consider me fat. With round thighs, belly, and arms, I stand in front of classes and model what I believe: we can be fit without fitting the norm. Learning powerful actions like warrior poses and squats free us from all the pinching and self-loathing.

Sadie Chanlett-Avery is a yoga teacher living in California.

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