TIME

This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

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Do your eyes glaze over when you hear how much exercise you should get each week? That looming 150-minute figure is the equivalent of 21 micro workouts a week—and it seems like nobody has time for that. This is the problem with our exercise recommendations, argues a new analysis published in The BMJ: They’re just set far too high to motivate the people who need them the most.

That’s the argument of Philipe de Souto Barreto, a researcher at University Hospital of Toulouse in France and author of the new paper. “Getting inactive people to do a little bit of physical activity, even if they don’t meet the recommendations, might provide greater population health gains,” he writes.

It’s not that the recommendations are off for optimal health. 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, which the World Health Organization sets as its target, is a great goal that’s been shown to reduce risk for all kinds of diseases and death, Barreto says. But other data shows that gentler goals can also provide important health benefits.

One study of more than 250,000 older adults found that getting less than an hour of moderate physical activity each week was linked to a 15% drop in death. Barreto also cites a review of 254 articles looking at the link between exercise and disease reduction, which found that the relationship between the two is dose-dependent. In other words, it’s not an all or nothing affair: even minor shifts can help people who don’t get enough exercise. Another analysis of studies found that when people walk just 1-74 minutes a week, they have a 19% reduced risk of death, compared to the most sedentary people.

“Achieving target physical activity recommendations should remain as a goal but not the core public health message surrounding physical activity,” Barreto writes.

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TIME health

Panathenaic Way to Fitness

Ancient Greek Gym
An ancient Greek cup with a gymnasium scene with two referees and two wrestlers G. Dagli Orti—Getty Images/DeAgostini

The Ancient Greek gymnasion was a place to perfect the body for future festivals rather than somewhere to assuage the guilt of excess

History Today logoThis post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at HistoryToday.com.

The New Year’s resolution to join a gym is nothing new. The male citizens of classical Athens (sixth to fourth centuries BC) would have thronged the city’s three public gymnasia — the Akademia (Academy), Lykeion (Lyceum) and Kinosarges (Cynosarges) — around the new year. One cannot help but feel, however, that the ancient Greeks had things much better organised than we do. For one, the Athenian New Year began on the first new moon after the summer solstice, during the month of Hekatombaion (June/July), in midsummer, not midwinter. They did not go to the gym after the event to assuage their guilt about the excesses of the preceding festive season but beforehand in order to look their best for the forthcoming celebrations.

Of the three major festivals held during Hekatombaion, the most important was the Panathenaia, marking the birthday of Athena on the 28th with a pompe (procession), in which freeborn Athenians of both sexes progressed from the Dipylon Gate along the Panathenaic Way to the Agora and thence up through the Propylaia to the Altar of Athena on the Acropolis. Freeborn male citizens and their sons would have trained even more assiduously for the quadrennial Greater Panathenaia, which included a full programme of athletic events, with the added edge that they were expected to compete in the Panathenaic Stadium, gymnos, naked.

It is not just etymology that links the ancient gymnasion with its modern successor. Like today’s gym members, freeborn Athenian men and boys went to the city’s public gymnasia to perform aesthetic training, that is, exercises that enabled them to achieve or maintain the bodily ideal that was visibly glorified in the city’s public art. And for good reason: male nudity was no mere artistic convention in classical Athens, as it would be in neoclassical London, Paris or Berlin. It was obligatory during local and Pan-Hellenic competitions, such as the Panathenaic and Olympic Games and while training at the gymnasium. It was a common sight, too, during religious festivals. To cite one sculptural example, the western section of the Parthenon frieze (most of which is now in the British Museum) shows athletic young cavalrymen, naked except for a himation rakishly carried over one arm or thrown back over the shoulders, preparing to ride out in the Greater Panathenaic pompe.

Training for sporting competition (which would now be classed as complementary or assistance exercise) and for the narcissistic pursuit of the body beautiful (aesthetic training) are two functions shared by the ancient and modern institutions. To this we can add a third: therapeutic training, because the ancient Greeks, too, understood the value of exercise in maintaining health and curing disease. But there the similarities end. A visitor to a gym built between the closing decades of the 19th century and the present day would expect to walk into an indoor hall filled with equipment. In contrast, the visitor to a Greek gymnasion would have found something more akin to an open-air athletics field set within extensive parklands, devoid of any fixed equipment, though with the addition of altars and shrines.

The only major constructions would have been the palaistra, a large courtyard enclosed by porticos, and the xystoi, the covered running tracks for use in bad weather. Instead of performing on the parallel bars or ‘pumping iron’ on free weights in figure-hugging lycra, the patrons would be seen practising running, long jump, javelin, discus, wrestling and pankration, naked but oiled, covered with a coating of protective dust and with their genitals tied in place by a leather thong know as a kynodesme (literally a ‘dog leash’; a penis was a ‘dog’ in ancient Greek slang).

The rooms housed within the porticos of the palaistra reveal the functions that a gymnasion provided its patrons. Alongside the facilities that one would expect in an athletics facility — changing rooms (apodyterion), oiling, massage and medical room (aleipthrion), bath (loutron), punch-bag room (korykion) and ballgames room (sphairisterion) — there were rooms furnished with seating (exedrai) set aside for the education of boys from the ages of seven to 14; the epheboi, the city’s military cadets, who did two years’ military service from the ages of 18 to 20; and adult men who attended lectures given by sophists and philosophers. During the classical period, in addition to being a facility dedicated to the training of the body, the Akademia served as a primary and secondary school, a military academy and mess hall and an adult education institute. As the site of shrines and altars dedicated to heroes and gods, it would also have played its part in the religious life of the city.

Informally, the gymnasion was where boys had their first sexual experiences with other boys and older men. The erastes-eromenos system of age-graded same-sex relations that was part of the citizenship and military training of Greek boys and adolescents found a natural home within the confines of the all-male gymnasion. However, I would not like to give the reader the impression that the gymnasion was home to a culture of unbridled same-sex hedonism. Although Greek men and boys were accustomed to being naked in the gym, where they freely admired each others’ bodies, they also abided by strict rules of propriety and self-restraint. The gymnasion was where boys attained manhood in the broadest sense of the term and adult men pursued arete: their full physical, intellectual, emotional, social and moral potential. In The Laws, Plato discusses the concept of sophrosyne, the moderation of one’s desires in order to achieve full mastery of the self and true masculinity. He stresses the importance of physical training in the gym in its development and asserts that a man who is agymnastos (untrained physically, intellectually and morally) will not achieve sophrosyne and, by extension, arete. We can see in the New Year’s resolution to join a gym a modern echo of the ancient Greek pursuit of arete, as modern gym-goers strive to achieve their full human potential through the discipline of gym-based exercise.

Eric Chaline is the author of The Temple of Perfection: A History of the Gym, which will be published by Reaktion in March 2015

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Why You Should Start Forcing Your Coworkers to Take a Walk With You

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Take a hike for your health

A quick jaunt with coworkers could make you feel better all over, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. were looking for an easy yet effective way to get people to exercise. Turns out, simply telling people that exercise is good for them doesn’t work all that well. (A full 8% of people in England don’t walk continuously for more than five minutes, the team’s research has shown.)

MORE: Get Fitter (Much) Faster

They analyzed 42 studies on the subject across 14 countries and found that people who were part of walking groups showed significantly lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, cholesterol levels and even depression scores compared with their levels before they embarked on group walks. They also had better lung capacity — a good indicator of fitness — and were able to walk farther.

These weren’t hard and grueling hikes, either. The vast majority, 75%, weren’t even strenuous enough to count as moderate physical activity, yet the health effects were clear.

“It’s very small levels of exercise that people need to do,” says Hanson. “Increasingly we’re thinking, Look, let’s not overburden people by saying you need to do all these massive amounts of minutes of exercise. Let’s keep talking about 10 minute bouts of exercise.”

Those who were part of walking groups also had low levels of dropout — about three-quarters stuck with it — a finding Hanson credits to the presence of other people. Even if they don’t join to make friends, being able to clear your mind and follow the leader is enjoyable and fulfilling, she says.

If this were a medicine with such pronounced health benefits, “then people would buy it by the bucketful,” Hanson says. “But it’s free, and we don’t really realize how good some of these things are for us.”

TIME health

The 10 Essential Rules of Gym Etiquette

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Treat others who are working out as you'd like to be treated

1. Contain your exercise equipment. Don’t leave your water bottle, towel, weights, and other equipment strewn all over the stretching area. That may fly in your bedroom, but others will not appreciate navigating an obstacle course on their way to work out.

2. Do not socialize. While working out with a friend is a great motivator, it’s difficult for others to focus when you’re chatting loudly on the treadmill, or worse, standing on the machine next to them but not actually using it. That heat you feel on your back is people shooting daggers with their eyes.

3. Respect others’ headphones. If you see someone you know at the gym, say hello! But don’t try to strike up a conversation with someone in the zone with headphones on. In fact, approaching someone with headphones can be dangerous. Tapping them on the shoulder could startle them enough to lose control, and we can pretty much guarantee they won’t be happy.

4. Share with others. We know it’s tempting to hoard everything you need, but there is a gym full of people who likely use some of the same equipment, so loosen your grip a little.

5. Do not peer at adjacent TV screens. You know that feeling you get when someone is looking over your shoulder and you can’t get anything done? That’s how it feels to have someone watching your channel on the elliptical television.

6. Do not loiter and text on a machine. If you need to catch up on emails or text messages, feel free to do so in the locker room. Sitting on a machine texting, unfortunately, doesn’t count as working out.

7. Arrive to group classes on time. If you’re late to a cardio class, politely set up in the back, and try not to disturb others. If you’re running late to yoga, know that you’re likely disrupting people’s practice when you enter 10 minutes after it starts.

8. Wipe down your machine. We know—you think that the next person will just wipe down the treadmill before they start their workout. You’re wrong, though.

9. Do not douse yourself with perfume. Perfume and sweat is not a great combo in an already smelly gym. But while you should skip the perfume, please don’t skip the deodorant.

10. Do not stare. No, everyone will not have a private little changing room in the locker rooms. Keep your eyes to yourself, please.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

15 Things Nobody Tells You About Losing Weight

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All the weird, wonderful, and sometimes frustrating ways that dropping pounds changes your life

Losing weight does more than give you an excuse to buy new clothes. Dropping just 5 to 10% of your body weight can improve your overall health and reduce your risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. But shedding unwanted pounds can also have less-obvious effects, and not always for the better, says Adam Tsai, MD, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado and a spokesperson for the Obesity Society. Here are the good things—and the bad—that you don’t normally hear about losing weight.

Your energy levels will skyrocket

A big energy boost is often the first thing people notice when they start dropping weight. Why? When you’re carrying around fewer pounds, you use less energy to simply go about your day, says Dr. Tsai. Weight loss also improves oxygen efficiency, so you won’t find yourself out of breath so easily when climbing stairs or hustling to catch the bus.

Your memory may improve

In a 2013 Swedish study, older women scored better on memory tests after six months of following a weight-loss plan. Brain scans showed more activity during the encoding process (when memories are formed) and less activity during memory retrieval, suggesting greater recall efficiency. “The altered brain activity after weight loss suggests that the brain becomes more active while storing new memories and therefore needs fewer brain resources to recollect stored information,” said study author Andreas Pettersson, MD, in a press release. Previous research has also linked obesity to poor memory, especially in pear-shaped women who carry extra pounds around their hips.

Your relationship will be tested

Losing weight can make you feel sexier, but your slimmed-down body—and that newfound confidence—won’t necessarily strengthen your bond with your spouse. In a 2013 study from North Carolina State University, researchers found that although dropping 60 pounds or more in two years or less usually improved couples’ relationships, occasionally a dieter’s partner felt jealous or threatened. Why? Your body transformation may force your significant other to consider his or her own health choices, says Gail Saltz, MD, Health‘s contributing psychology editor. Another problem: Your partner may worry about how your personality might change. “You feeling great, sexy, or confident could shift the balance of the relationship,” Dr. Saltz says. “They fear losing the identity of the more confident one or losing the upper hand.” Many of these challenges could apply to friendships, too.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Your risk of cancer will be lower

You know that smoking, sun exposure, and radiation can cause cancer, but obesity has been linked to several types of cancers as well, says Dr. Tsai. Being overweight causes inflammation that triggers cell changes within the body. Dangerous levels of inflammation can be lowered, however, by losing just 5% of your body weight, according to a 2012 study on post-menopausal women published in the journal Cancer Research. And a 2014 study published in Obesity Research found that morbidly obese men who underwent bariatric surgery reduced their cancer risk over the following years to roughly that of normal-weight people.

If you were depressed before, that may not change

Does being overweight make you depressed—or does being depressed lead to weight gain? It’s not always possible to tell what comes first, says Dr. Tsai. And while most people feel happier after they’ve lost weight, it’s not a cure-all. “For a smaller percentage of people, mood will not improve even after they lose 100 pounds,” he says. That may be because weight loss doesn’t address any underlying problems you may have, says Dr. Saltz.

Foods may taste different

Losing a lot of weight in a small amount of time may alter your taste buds. A recent Stanford University study revealed that after bariatric surgery, 87% of patients reported a change in their sense of taste. About half said food tasted sharper, while the other half said food tasted duller. The upshot: those who tasted food less intensely after surgery lost 20% more weight over three months than those who said foods tasted stronger. The study authors say more research is needed to determine why the change in taste occurs, but another recent study did have similar findings. The study, from Leicester Royal Infirmary in the United Kingdom, found that three quarters of weight loss surgery patients developed a dislike for certain foods after their operations, most often meat and dairy products.

HEALTH.COM: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Working out will be more fun

When you’re carrying around extra pounds, exercising can make your joints hurt and lungs burn more than someone who’s at a normal weight, says Dr. Tsai. Once you start to slim down, exercise will start to feel less like a chore and more like the fun, energizing experience that it should be. Plus, being lighter can also make you faster and stronger. Take running, for example: It’s generally believed that for every pound lost, an athlete can shave two seconds off the time it takes to run a mile.

Your bones may change

Ever heard that losing weight weakens your bones? While it’s true that weight loss is associated with bone loss, it’s only a big concern if you become underweight or follow an unhealthy diet, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation says that the benefits of weight loss usually outweigh the risks. Extra weight can make your bones stronger (they have to be, to carry the extra pounds) but it also damages joints. And new research suggests that visceral fat around the belly is particularly bad for bones, for both men and women. Losing weight can help, as well as reduce arthritis symptoms, according to a 2013 review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

You’ll probably spend less on health care

Normal-weight people spend less money on medical bills and expenses than their overweight peers, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Health Affairs. Specifically, researchers found obese people spent $1,429 more—that’s 42% higher—than their normal-weight peers, most of which went toward prescription medications needed to manage chronic conditions. And a 2014 report on Michigan residents found that annual health care costs for people who were extremely obese were a whopping 90% higher than those of normal-weight individuals.

In related sad-but-true news, you might notice something else when you lose weight, as well: Doctors (whose bias against obese patients has been well documented) may treat you better, too.

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You may get a raise

It’s not just doctors who may treat you better after losing weight; your employer might, too. Studies have shown that obese people make less money than normal-weight workers, especially among women. In fact, a 2004 study published in Health Economics found that the average paycheck for an obese worker was about 2.5% lower than that of a thinner employee. Dropping down to a healthy weight may also get you more job offers, according to a 2014 British study.

You may be able to toss your meds

Maintaining a healthy weight can protect you against diabetes and heart disease—but what if you’re already overweight and suffering from these conditions? Good news: Slimming down can still help. “These conditions won’t necessarily go away, but you may be able to reduce your symptoms and the amount of medication you take,” says Dr. Tsai.

You may be able to take less blood pressure or cholesterol medication, for example, or learn to manage your type 2 diabetes without giving yourself daily injections. Studies also show that losing weight may allow you control chronic conditions like asthma and heartburn without (or with less) medication, as well. In related sad-but-true news, you might notice something else when you lose weight, as well: Doctors (whose bias against obese patients has been well documented) may treat you better, too.

Your skin may sag

One thing many people aren’t prepared for after a dramatic weight loss is the loose, sagging skin. It won’t go away overnight—or perhaps ever—and it may leave you feeling disappointed with your new body. Some opt for body contouring procedures like a facelift, breast lift, or tummy tuck, but any surgery carries risks, and in most cases insurance will not cover these cosmetic surgeries.

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You’ll catch more zzz’s

People who lost at least 5% of their body weight over a six-month period slept an average of 22 minutes longer than they had previously in a 2014 University of Pennsylvania study. And earlier in the year, Finnish researchers reported that modest weight loss significantly improved symptoms of sleep apnea.

“Losing weight usually means there’s less there to physically constrict your breathing and less soft tissue to block the upper airways,” says Dr. Tsai. Better sleep also helps your body burn fat more efficiently, so getting a good night’s sleep means you’ll be more likely to keep those pounds off.

You could boost your chances of having a baby

If you’ve been trying to get pregnant, losing a few pounds may help. A 2009 study published in Fertility and Sterility found that obesity in women is associated with infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome, and that the younger a woman is when she becomes obese, the harder it could be for her to get pregnant.

Slimming down can also help ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, since a mom’s weight during (and even before) has been linked to all sorts of health outcomes for her kids.

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Your eye health will improve

Matthew McConaughey told interviewers that his rapid weight-loss in preparation for his role as an AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club caused him to start losing his eyesight. That may be the result of extreme calorie restriction or nutritional deficiencies—but for most people, weight loss can actually protect their vision from obesity-related conditions like type 2 diabetes.

A 2013 University of Georgia study, for example, found that higher body fat percentage was associated with lower levels of the antioxidants lutien and zeaxanthin in retinal tissue. “The results indicate that adiposity may affect the nutritional state of the retina,” the authors wrote. “Such links may be one of the reasons that obesity promotes age-related degenerative conditions.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

5 Reasons to Spend More Time Outside—Even When It’s Cold

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Mother Nature provides serious benefits to our bodies and minds—even when the temperatures drop

Studies show that a stroll outdoors can actually improve brain function and mental focus. Walking not only results in increased physical activity, it also promotes the free flow of ideas, according to Stanford University researchers.

Another study by psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas​ found that backpackers scored 50 percent higher on creativity tests after spending four full days in nature without any electronics. “Burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature,” co-author David Strayer said in a statement.

Research also suggests that time outside can improve focus. Children with ADHD are likely to score higher on concentration tests after time outdoors. Those children who strolled through a park saw a greater increase in focus than those who walked through a residential neighborhood or urban area.

It’s no secret that winter can bring on the blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the cause of reoccurring depression in 10 to 20 percent of women in the U.S. Symptoms of SAD can include anxiety, exhaustion, and overwhelming sadness. Researchers believe SAD is a result of shorter days in the winter, and the fact that there is less natural light. The cold can also keep even regular exercisers indoors, reducing their sun exposure. One quick and easy treatment for SAD: more time outside (even when it’s chilly or cloudy), according to the Mayo Clinic.

In addition to easing SAD symptoms, time spent in natural light gives our bodies a chance to soak up vital rays. Vitamin D helps ward off heart attacks, and may even improve conditions including osteoporosis and some types of cancer. Although we can obtain vitamin D from foods like salmon and cheese, we get 80 to 90 percent of it from the sun. But don’t forget to smear on some SPF if you’re going to be outside for longer than a few minutes. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean the sun won’t damage your skin.

Working up the motivation to exercise outside is trickier when it’s windy, snowy, or just plain cold. But being outside gives runners a better workout, burns more calories for cyclists, and makes physical activity more enjoyable overall, according to The New York Times. That means enduring the elements to jog on a frosty day may actually help us relish our workouts.

“The number one best part of going outside during winter is the solitude and space,” says Sarah Knapp, founder of OutdoorFest, a New York-based organization that encourages city dwellers to go outdoors. “The trails are significantly less crowded, a layer of snow quiets the world down, and when the trees lose their leaves, views are more expansive.”

Natural light may hold healing powers, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh. Researchers found that spinal surgery patients saw lower levels of both pain and stress after they were exposed to more natural sunlight. In fact, patients exposed to 46 percent more sunshine took 22 percent less pain medication per hour.

Another study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Aging Health, suggests that getting outside remains just as important as we age. Seventy-year-olds who spent time outdoors daily reported fewer bouts of pain and had less trouble sleeping. They also seemed to show less of a decline in day-to-day activities. In other words, the outdoors may help us stay healthy later in life.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Aging

Here’s How to Make Sure No One Can Ever Guess Your Age

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As you get older, your body reliably falls apart. Right? Not even close, finds a new study published in the Journal of Physiology. Age really is nothing but a number—but if your number happens to be high, that only applies if your exercise levels are, too.

The study from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in the U.K. looked at older adults all between ages 55-79 who were very active cyclists. The researchers collected extensive physiological information of every person, including heart stats, respiratory and metabolic levels, endocrine functions, hormones, brain power and bone strength. Many of these measures showed a significant association with age—but they varied so much from person to person that no single measure was able to reliably predict a person’s age.

That’s probably because exercise levels have such a strong influence over many of those numbers, the study authors note, and being sedentary arguably plays the biggest role. Said Norman Lazarus, study co-author and professor at King’s College London, in a press release, “Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Fitbit Launches Two New Fitness Trackers

Fitbit Surge Fitbit

Fitbit launches new tricked-out trackers with a watch and GPS

Fitbit officially launched the sale of two new fitness and activity trackers, Charge HR and Surge, on Tuesday. Both wrist trackers feature caller ID and sleep monitoring as well as visible stats and a watch on its display.

The company originally announced its new devices in October, but now they’re available for purchase, Fitbit said at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). “With Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, features like heart rate tracking are made simpler by being continuous and automatic so the technology works no matter what you’re doing,” said James Park, CEO and cofounder of Fitbit, in a statement.

Charge HR Fitbit

Fitbit Charge HR costs $149.95 and uses continuous heart rate readings to provide wearers with day-long stats on their fitness. The Surge is $249.95 and takes tracking a step further with GPS, text message notifications and music control.

The fitness tracker market is crowded, and it’s estimated that 42 million wearable fitness and health devices shipped in 2014. That puts a lot of pressure on companies to come up with the latest and greatest technology to cram into a durable vehicle the size of a large bracelet. Early products were equivalent to glorified pedometers (which, by the way, you can buy for under $10). Now, they’re much fancier—though not necessarily much more accurate. A 2014 study from Iowa State University looked at the most popular trackers and found that they were an average of 10-15% off at calculating calorie burn from activity. The Fitbit series, however, was fairly close in accuracy to the kind scientists use in research.

The new Fitbit trackers can now be shipped everywhere in the U.S., and globally in the near future.

Read next: These Are the Most Ingenious Gadgets From CES 2015

MONEY health

Joining A Gym This New Year May Be A Waste Of Money

Gyms know many of the customers who get memberships because of a New Year’s sale will not continue to come to they gym past January. They actually count on the membership revenue from those who never come to keep afloat.

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