These Will Be the Biggest Health Trends of 2020
The experts have spoken on what we will see in the coming year
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Not to jinx it at this late hour but, against all odds, it looks like our species will make it to 2020. Time to break out the organic, sustainably sourced champagne. (It may taste like carbonated vinegar, but at least it’s still reassuringly expensive.) But what then? Will humanity manage to stick it out for a few more millennia? Not if we don’t manage to stay healthy in the short term.
To that end, and as in years past, we’ve reached out to several prominent personalities in the health and fitness world (generously defined) to get their take on what we might expect in the year ahead.
Running Is Back, Baby!
The Second Running Boom, according to stats collected by RunningUSA, peaked back in 2013, when 19 million people signed up for U.S. road races. That’s roughly when the headlines about how too much running would kill you hit their peak, and also when Eliud Kipchoge made his marathon debut. Since then, numbers have been steadily ebbing: they hit 18.1 million in 2018. But the bleeding has almost stopped, and—buoyed by the persistent failure of studies to find any evidence that even extreme amounts of running will kill you and the persistent brilliance of Kipchoge—2020 will be the year that the trend finally turns around. Lapsed runners will return to the fold, new runners will discover the Trial of Miles, and hardcore veterans will redouble their efforts. The year will reach its apogee in December when Kipchoge, while delivering his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, actually levitates from the stage (though the usual cynics will maintain that this feat is somehow linked to the bluish flame that, from certain angles, appears to flicker from the soles of his sneakers).
—Alex Hutchinson, Outside Sweat Science columnist and author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
The War on Sitting Will Resume
I expect that people will become increasingly focused on trying to move more throughout the day. Not working out, not even going for a walk, but just taking time throughout the day to stand up from a chair and move around for a few minutes. Research shows that our bodies aren’t designed to be in one place for hours at a time. And of course, a short break is good for our brains.
—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
Tech-Abetted Home Gyms Will Continue to Proliferate
In 2020, we will start to see a big increase in the number of people working out using virtual training programs in their homes. Indoor cycling programs like Peloton and Zwift were just the beginning. Now, with programs like those by Mirror and Tonal, your gym and trainer are coming to you, right in the comfort of your home. The big question is whether or not people will find these as fun and effective without the live person and community aspects of going to the gym.
—Andy Petranek, co-founder of the Whole Life Challenge
The Debate on Gear-Related “Technical Doping” Will Heat Up
I think that in the post-Vaporfly world we are going to see a shoe “arms race” as other companies jump in and the discussion about possible regulation of shoe tech heats up. I think this is going to spill over to other areas of equipment as people and companies seek novel ways to improve efficiency.
—Dr. Michael Joyner, physiologist at the Mayo Clinic
“Big Ag” Will Grow a Conscience
In my crystal ball, I’m seeing much greater attention from Big Agriculture to how its practices affect climate change, along with increasing public demand for sustainable “regenerative” agriculture, meaning farming practices that sequester carbon, replenish nutrients in soil, and protect water resources. It’s about time!
—Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU, emerita, and author of Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
We Will Continue to Argue Over the Minutiae and Miss the Big Picture
Are interval workouts better for you than running long distances? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day, or is extending your overnight fast better? Which one is the evil ill to all of our problems this year: fat, sugar, or animal proteins? If there's one thing I'm sure of, it’s that in 2020 we will continue our back and forth arguments over what the next superfood, super-exercise, and super-supplement are. It’s in our nature to get lost in the details of exercise and diet advice, while forgetting that there is no easy answer when it comes to health and fitness. And that we’re a diverse group of individuals, so what works for you may not work for me. My hope is that the big picture makes a comeback. Instead of trying to hack or detail our way to health and wellbeing, we settle on the few very basic things that work: move, eat real food, sleep, form real bonds and relationships, go outside.
More Men Will Have Female Sports Heroes
I predict a continuation of last year’s sentiment that women are a lot like people. We will see a wave of men vocally supporting women’s sports, sharing their female sports heroes, and emphatically demanding that everyone stop boxing in the potential reach of women athletes to only female fans. This massive tide of allyship will have a profound effect on the economics of women’s sports. Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird will parachute into the World Series, mid-play, and do an open arm salute.
We Will Become Increasingly Sick of the “Quantified Self”
The main trend I see continuing, since I think it’s already underway, is kind of a reversal of what happened in the last two decades: for a long time, mainstream fitness was training in your grungy gym with other human-beings, everyone kind of struggling along together. During that period, fringe fitness was using fancy gadgets and devices and technologies to “boost” your training. Then, sometime in the last few years, that completely flipped. Now mainstream is training with fancy gadgets (or in specific classes) and it is only the fringe folks who are training in low-tech, grungy gyms. I think this niche will continue to grow: the return of the garage gym kind of thing. I sense that, increasingly, people are getting sick of their health and fitness being just another part of living a productive, measured, and polished life. I don’tthink this kind of back-to-basics training will be mainstream again anytime soon, but I do think more people will bounce back in this direction. In running, in strength training, in cycling. You name it. I’m not against stuff like Peloton. Anything that gets someone moving who otherwise wouldn’t be moving is a good thing. I just think high-tech fancy fitness is saturated and people are getting sick of being measured and compared in every element of their life… For all of Crossfit’s faults (such as coming after me on Twitter for saying that walking is the best exercise there is and gets you 99 percent of the way there, which I stand by), they do a really nice job of keeping things low-tech, hard, and community-oriented. Instead of constantly criticizing, other fitness movements could learn from this.
Mindfulness Will Prove That It’s Not Just a Fad
I think people are a bit fed up and just want to know what works. There’s ample opportunity to teach the consumer and exercise-goer instead of simply offering another product. Running will still continue to be big this year, especially going into an Olympic year. We will also continue to see the rise of disciplines outside of the fitness space but are still connected to it—think mindfulness and recovery. These aren’t fads and are truly here to stay.
—Joe Holder, fitness and wellness columnist for GQ
There Will Be More Face Time and Less FaceTime
People will look up from their smart watches and phones and actually speak to each other more in 2020. (A person can hope, right?)
—Dr. Jordan Metzl, bestselling author and sports medicine physician