Business Times

tomorrowFITNESS: What is in store for us

By Jagdish Hathiramani

What need is there for physical effort in a future where gene modification is commonplace and where, in all probability, a single pill will allow you to look your thinnest, most buff and, in all ways, most perfect? In our continuing exploration of the wold of the future, this week's tomorrowSERIES feature focuses on the possible evolution of the use of gyms and, by default, fitness.

So why, you may ask, is this feature titled tomorrowFITNESS instead of tomorrowGYM? The research suggests that, while the first new paradigm brought upon by technological, health and other advances (even philosophy has a role to play), both today and tomorrow, focuses on creating and maintaining positive habits that promote fitness, particularly at gyms; the concept of fitness itself will still have some relevance even in a far off age when gene manipulation and other practices take humankind to a level where our technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic, if witnessed by us of today.

Fit for life
Most everyone will agree that today of increasing importance to individuals, parents and even governments is the improvement of fitness of the populace because, the more physically fit one is, the lower the health risks one is privy to. A simple cause and effect relationship that can add up to a wealth of rupees and cents for the government or, coincidentally, could mean a lot of worry and heartache for parents or individuals.

Especially troubling is that, as our lifestyle gets more sedentary, so does that of all the members of our family... Nowadays our kids share the habits we manifest, a particularly nasty curse as younger generations have virtually no motivation to break these habits whereas we have the option of reminiscing about our glory days to break our melancholy. Remembering when we played rugby or cricket or even swam for school. Importantly, tapping into those memories can be a powerful motivator to force our hand and get us back into some sort of shape. However, if you find it hard to get fit, imagine how hard it is for the kid who never played sports or exercised in the first place... An increasingly common phenomenon in an age where sitting in front of the television, and the content it provides, is the surrogate for real life as well as also being the answer to everything.

One idea increasing in popularity in today's world which may take firmer hold in our future to become even more prevalent proposes, especially for the more at risk younger kids, the reversal of the sedentary lifestyle trend and its associated bad physical behaviours. A USA-based franchise called "Little Gyms" targets kids from six months upwards and promotes fun, physical activities such as gymnastics, karate, camp type activities, etc. This concept, which already boasts 300+ locations across 20+ countries, also provides a set of real world behaviours that could combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. A problem that is currently gaining increasing relevance in Asia.

Another which has been mooted to keep the exercise fun and fresh is the retro gym: a interactive environment utilising motivational themes and images from particularly emotional sports movies such as Sylvester Stallone's Rocky and others. Imagine the feeling when you saw this movie and others like it for the first time, and every time after. Now imagine experiencing that mood over and over again while exercising. Initial suggestions about its effectiveness are heartening; especially with the immediate future of the fitness industry considered relatively rosy compared to other industries, with the USA's Labour Department forecasting a 30% increase in the number of jobs in this industry over the next eight years.

Technology will also play a large role in the gym of the future, particularly when it comes to showing you immediate results from your workout while also keeping track of your overall progress. Made even more convenient with use of the increasingly popular Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags. In addition, these increasingly intelligent tags will also generate automatic reminders for you to go to the gym as well as recommendations for specific exercises, suggestions / directions by doctors / trainers, etc. And imagine the supreme sense of accomplishment that is in store for you when, after you reach a particularly harrowing milestone in your fitness regime, the legendary Sri Lankan bowler Murali, or your favourite sports star, sends you a congratulatory message.

Also good for motivation is the concept of game play. Imagine a gym that more resembles a gaming arcade. Why perform repetitive motions when you can instead climb a real mountain, swim a real sea or take part in some other simulation where real force is exerted, along with its equivalent calories expended. One such product being touted in recent years is the "Cateye GameBike", which equates the speed of peddling to how fast your racing car goes in a game. Another idea is that game controllers be incorporated into weights so that you can condition with free weights while you play. In fact, gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation, Microsoft XBOX, etc. are already bringing these facilities to your home today and new developments like kinetic controllers will further extend capabilities to mimic virtually any sport even without the need for game controllers.

Fit for society
The more long-term evolution of exercise, and as a result fitness, is suggested by an idea propagated by a strange mixture of two potential global catastrophes - increases in both obesity and resource use. The capability of humans being utilised as sources of energy. A concept termed "crowd farms".

In the distant future, when energy production reaches all time lows, it may be a person's civic duty to put his or her exercise to the service of the greater whole. As such, some suggest that there will be centres where people work out and the resulting kinetic energy, exponentially increased by a factor of many, due their aggregate output will be stored and later used to run cities and even homes. This in a nutshell is the potential of "crowd farms".

An even grander scheme has been conceptualised by a New York Magazine award-winning architectural project called "River Gym". Basically, human-powered gyms that float on rivers adjoining large metropolises. These "gyms" also act as power plants, water purification facilities and mass transportation networks.

Also referred to as multi-planar kinetic spaces, these will be in all shapes and sizes with the smaller ones, which only need a few users, being in continuous service; while bigger facilities, which will require more human-generators, being available only during rush hours or peak times when more people are available to power them.

Even if a day comes when exercise is no longer necessary, maybe because of that magic pill we alluded to at the beginning of this feature; there will always be a place for the very act of fitness in the lives of tomorrow people. Whether it is for the values learned from the practical application of teamwork or the self-motivation and discipline taught by sporting activities; tomorrowFITNESS undoubtedly has a place in the lives of our future selves.

However, it will ultimately depend on how we approach this concept today that will determine if we perceive a gift to cherish and nurture or a burden to erase from our collective unconscious.

(The columnist could be reached at

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