Fitness trends and the Next Big Thing: One expert weighs in

For 20 years, Harvey Lauer has tracked fitness trends under the aegis of American Sports Data, a three-man operation he heads out of Hartsdale, N.Y.

A psychology graduate who studied public opinion research under social psychologist Daniel Yankelovich, Lauer boasts a client list that includes such heavyweights as 3M, the University Notre Dame, Nike and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What's the fitness trend no one saw coming?
Harvey Lauer: "Older people exercising. The 55-plus age group is the most fitness-conscious demographic in America right now. Older people are adopting programs that fit their capabilities: fitness walking, stationary cycling, stretching and flexibility exercises and hand weights."

What's the biggest change you've seen in fitness?
H.L.: "Acceptance. When I started running, in the late '70s, during the first wave of the fitness boom, if you saw someone running fast -- wearing what my mother would call "their underwear" -- you would call the police. Today it's an accepted sight. More than 80 percent of Americans feel physical exercise is important -- although only about 20 percent get enough [of it]."

What will it take to get more people moving?
H.L.: "It's all about the pleasure principle ... Newcomers regard exercise as boring, painful or inconvenient. I say: Make it easy and they will come. [As talk grows about] obesity as an epidemic, so fitness will grow toward less-taxing ways for weight loss, with emphasis on stretching and flexibility."

After Pilates and yoga, what's next?
H.L.: "I don't pretend to be a seer. I am an analyst, weaving culture, sport participation and psychology. But since you asked ... In 2050 every able-bodied American will be working out -- those who don't will be looked down on like those who don't brush their teeth in 2003."

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