• Americans anxious to live up to ambitious New Year's resolutions may consider taking performance-enhancing drugs or sports supplements to speed up the process. While these substances claim to provide quick results for increasing muscle building, strength, endurance and weight loss, they can pose serious health threats, according to research by the Healthy Competition Foundation, which was formed by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The BCBSA recommends people consult their doctor before taking such substances because the dangers can be much greater than many realize. Among adults surveyed, the most popular substances were steroids, creatine and ephedra.

  • Congress has approved a major increase in appropriations to improve the nation's physical education programs in the schools. The $50 million appropriated by Congress for this year is a 1000 percent increase from the $5 million appropriated for last year. The funds will be used to benchmark and broadcast “best practices” among elementary and high school P.E. programs.

  • Outdoor industry data points to Outdoor Cross Training (OXT) as one of the country's fastest growing fitness trends. Millions of Americans are turning to OXT activities — trail running, fast packing, cycling, rock climbing, skiing and snowshoeing — to stay fit. The growth of adventure racing, triathlons and trail running has helped inspire this trend.

    According to an Outdoor Industry Association study, 33 million people, or 16 percent of the population over 15 years old, run off-pavement. And, a recent survey by R.T. Nielson for leading outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) found close to 30 percent of Americans say they participate in two or more outdoor aerobic activities. More than 70 percent of those surveyed also report outdoor activities are more effective in reducing personal stress than indoor activities.

    “People are looking to incorporate outdoor experiences more frequently into their busy lives,” said Julie Baxter, REI Director of Merchandising. “Adding outdoor cross training to their fitness routine is an easy way to do this. We project outdoor cross training gear will be REI's fastest growing category.”

  • Army recruits are weighing in at numbers higher than previous years, but those extra pounds are on some harder bodies, according to new research. An Army study in the February issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looking at the aerobic capacity, strength and body characteristics of recruits in 1998, compared with those of recruits in 1978 and 1983, found that while the 1998 recruits weighed more and carried more body fat than those in previous years, they were stronger on all measures of muscle strength. And in terms of aerobic fitness, the recent men were found to be just as fit as their predecessors, and women's fitness exceeded the earlier recruits, according to wire reports.