Every few months, it seems, we see this same tease targeting couch potatoes everywhere: Take this one "exercise pill" and you'll reap all the benefits of working out without ever setting foot in a gym. "Scientists create blueprint for developing 'exercise in a bottle' drug that promises to transform your workout," The Washington Post declared last week. The Huffington Post put it more succinctly: "An 'exercise pill' may soon exist."
Rejoice! Our slothful prayers have been answered!
Except, of course, it's not really true.
Researchers are working on an "exercise pill," but the end product is likely still a decade away. And even then, the pill would not actually be intended to replace your workout, as New York noted. More accurately, due to its potential ability to burn fat, the exercise pill would function as an anti-obesity drug. It wouldn't help you destress, focus, or sleep at night — or offer any of the other mental health benefits that actual exercise provides.
Okay, so the magic pill is out. But don't fret: The exercise world still boasts many futuristic innovations. Many are in the works, and others already exist, making your workouts more efficient and maybe even fun. But you're still going to have to sweat.
One common workout roadblock that many people face is figuring out how to sustain motivation for long periods of time. For an extra incentive to push through fatigue, people are already turning to gaming apps. Want to run faster? Easy, just pretend zombies are chasing you. Fast Company predicts that gamification will continue to evolve, playing an even larger role in fitness going forward. You can see it in the immersive fitness trend, like the Hong Kong gym that offers a virtual reality spin class where attendees are made to feel like they're biking through the Himalayas.
If that sounds like motion sickness waiting to happen, know it's not the only way you can leverage technology to push yourself. If you can't stay motivated alone but feel self-conscious running with friends, your workout buddy could be a drone. The technology already exists.
Of course, the future of exercise is also about what you wear. As the design of 3D-printed athletic gear improves, companies like Adidas are aiming to have custom sneakers individually contoured to each runner's feet.
Sneakers and other gear that fits our bodies better can cut back on injuries. But the workout gear of the future will also collect data. Health-tracking shirts, pants, and socks still have tons of kinks to be ironed out, but one day they could replace wristbands like FitBit, so you don't have to wear anything extra.
Finding ways to collect more data on how we work out — and finding ways to collect that data more efficiently — is perhaps the biggest key to improving the way we exercise, keeping us healthy in the process. A Sports Illustrated and Wired video suggests that by Super Bowl C (that's 100, for you non-Romans out there), in addition to using motion tracking more effectively to inform workout regimens, scientists will also be able to harness more of what we know about our individual genetic makeup.
"In terms of where we can go in 50 years time when we look at DNA analysis, the sky has to be the limit," SI reporter Tom Taylor said. "It will be standard not just for the athlete, but for every one of us to have knowledge of what our DNA is, know what our injury susceptibility is, know what our illness susceptibility is."
In that sense, the future of exercise is much like its past and present. Training well, whether as a professional athlete or as a casual weekend gym-goer, is always going to demand your time and effort. The difference is that with the help of evolving technology, it's going to be increasingly possible to get more out of your workout. In the absence of a magic bullet, fitness is all about tailoring your routine to your physical and mental needs. That will be as true in the future as it is today.