New Year may be a time for taking stock of everything in our lives, but it's our health and fitness that are the focus of our most penitent promises. Though we ignore dust thickening on our trainers during the festive season, January demands action. But before the dutiful search for your gym pass, it's worth considering that if your mind-numbing treadmill routine hasn't worked thus far, it's probably time to try one of the ever-multiplying alternatives for getting – and staying – active.
Matt Roberts, personal trainer to the Prime Minister, believes that the standard gym offering simply isn't enough to keep most of us on track: "For a long time we have accepted the lazy approach to running gyms – you pay whether or not you turn up and no one cares either way. But the biggest global fitness trend we're seeing is for specialised one-on-one or group training, because people are realising the one-size-fits-all, solo gym work-out doesn't deliver the experience or results they want."
Even if you can't afford to enlist a personal trainer, Roberts believes there are key elements to a successful fitness regime that can be found in a host of other activities: "Social contact is a huge part of it, so I'm all for group activities, whether it's five-a-side football or military fitness in the park – whatever inspires you and creates a responsibility to turn up. Variety is also vital, for the body certainly, but also mentally. And, finally, setting goals is something I constantly do with my clients as training for a specific event is always good."
So, smug in the knowledge that it's not your fault that you visited your gym only seven times in 2011, take heart and have a look through this selection of new ways to get moving in 2012 that are more inspiring than half-an-hour on the cross-trainer. But remember – reading doesn't burn many calories, sadly.
1. Rush Hockey
Best For: Thoroughly Good Sports
If the word "hockey" summons memories of that extraordinary part of the school week when bullies were licensed to beat up the rest of us with sticks, you won't be enthused by the England Hockey Board's drive to get grown-up men and women to rediscover the game. If, however, you have fonder memories of the team spirit and healthy physical rivalry that often vanish from life post-school, you'll be pleased to hear that the game's latest incarnation delivers all that while being infinitely easier to fit into adult life, thanks to smaller teams, shorter playing times and the option to play indoors or out. Stick and ball remain unchanged. And beginners are welcome.
For more, see rushhockey.co.uk
2. Mixed Martial Arts
Best For: Aspiring Superheroes
Most of us can call to mind a situation in which a fantasy version of ourselves would have taken care of business by breaking out a few ninja moves. But back here on Earth, for growing numbers of participants, mixed martial arts – a combat sport that is a mixture of styles from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to kickboxing – is about getting a full-body work-out, not transforming oneself into an ultimate fighter. You needn't get within grappling distance of anyone else to receive the benefits of the training, either. Khalid Ismail, leading British MMA fighter and founder of Lion's Den Fitness Centres, has seen a big increase in uptake, particularly among women: "It offers incredible physical and mental benefits, from increased confidence and energy levels to improved co-ordination and weight loss." Ismail is also keen to stress, vis-à-vis cage-fighting eight-year-olds, that in the right environment MMA can be a force for good among youngsters, teaching discipline and self-restraint.
3. Circle Rules Football
Best For: Aesthete Athletes
Physical and mental prowess aren't mutually exclusive, but for anyone who excelled in the classroom but not on the school playing fields, there's something gratifying about recent moves by artier types to reclaim sport via street games; Circle Rules Football, for example, which was born out of a university drama thesis. This isn't to say it's high concept: two teams play with a super-sized ball, which can be kicked or handled around a central set of goalposts. You score by passing the ball through the posts, the direction depending on which team you're on. Like many street games taking place at dedicated festivals or one-off events around the world, Circle Rules is about mixing things up so everything is new and nobody has the advantage.
For more, follow @circlerulesuk or see fire-hazard.net
4. Fusion Fitness
Best For: Muscle Multitaskers
Once, a single form of exercise at any one time was more than enough. These days, however, hectic schedules demand the total work-out be squeezed into a single session – hence the raft of emerging fusion approaches. If it's the mind-body connection you've been missing, you'll like the holistic approach of Meditation in Motion, new to the programme at London's Third Space gyms, which mixes body conditioning with guided meditation. If you remain more concerned by body than soul, opt for one of the ever-increasing pilates hybrids – piloxing (with boxing), cardiolates (with spinning), rebounder pilates (with trampolining) – which combine its core strengthening with vigorous calorie-burning. Or, if you're a cynic, an opportunity to lie down for a bit in between bouts of busting your guts. Check out your local pilates studio for options.
5. Urban Poling
Best For: Reconstructed Ramblers
Unless you're a natural-born flâneur, it's hard to get your head around walking as a dedicated form of exercise. It's just too similar to that thing you do when you get off at the wrong bus stop. Nordic walking, or "urban poling" as its racily called in some parts, solves this by providing you with some gear – two hand-held poles to be exact – to make you feel purposeful. Of course, you may feel it makes you look a bit silly. But you'd be entirely wrong, since those poles are what turn a workaday walk into a full-body work-out by engaging the upper body and almost doubling the calories burned. If you remain unconvinced, it's worth noting that Matt Roberts arranges sessions of this fast-growing activity for his clients, and if it passes muster with the man who shows no mercy to the PM, there must be something in it.
6. Eco exercise
Best For: Weekend Warriors
Ever found yourself on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym contemplating a view of a car park and wondering how the human race came to this? Then get thee to a woodland glade and start channelling Bear Grylls. Bushcraft and survival courses have been popping up all over the UK and, while they're primarily aimed at teaching back-to-basic skills such as firecraft, foraging and shelter-building, expect a fair degree of exercise as an added bonus. Bruce Ferguson, who runs courses in the beautiful wilds of Kielder Water & Forest Park, reckons it's an all-round work-out for body and soul: "One activity we incorporate is green woodwork – turning wood on a pole lathe. You can lose several pounds easily doing that regularly. And, of course, it's outdoors, working with a wonderful natural material; you definitely commune with nature."
For more, see visitkielder.com
7. Multi-terrain racing
Best For: Short Sharp Shockers
If you fancy the adrenalised action of a large-scale fitness event, a new wave of souped-up obstacle courses arriving in the UK this year should test your mettle without troubling your attention span. Pitched for the semi-fit as well as the super-fit, events such as Warrior Dash (warriordash.com) and Tough Mudder (toughmudder.co.uk) are more quick thrash than marathon, and promise a mix of physical challenge and fun (skewed towards the latter). That might sound contradictory when mud tunnels, icy water, 12ft walls and shock-wires are involved, but, in contrast to similar events aimed at a more hardcore crowd, the emphasis is on entering with mates, donning silly costumes and dragging each other to the finish line – where the festival atmosphere continues in the form of beer and bands.
Best For: Free Wheelers
Though it sounds off-puttingly like something Jeremy Clarkson may have invented, the appeal of blokarting, a go-karting/land-sailing hybrid, lies in its inclusivity. All ages and levels of fitness can get involved; it's simply a question of choosing your terrain, wind speed and the kind of event as to whether you get a gentle run-around or a thrills-and-spills race. In part, its broad appeal is due to the fact that it's technique rather than brute force that's key to blokarting success, but since it works the upper body alone you can expect to feel as if you've put your arms and shoulders through their paces. It also makes this sport one of the few in which people with different levels of mobility can compete on equal terms.
For more, see theblsa.com
9. Padel Tennis
Best For: Rebel Racqueteers
If mixing things up is the key to keeping both brain and body engaged, padel (paddle) tennis – massively popular in Latin America, hence the Spanish name – ought to be just the thing for people who know their way around a tennis or squash court. A mixture of the two games, the serve is underarm, it's played in doubles with a smaller, solid paddle and a slightly depressurised tennis ball, and the ends of the court are enclosed so that the ball can bounce off and stay in play. All of which make for a fast-paced game that will force you to rip up your usual on-court rulebook. Although facilities remain limited in the UK, David Lloyd plans to introduce the sport into selected clubs this year.
For other venues, see padelfederation.co.uk
Best For: Urban Cavemen (and Women)
Some days you wake up and feel as if you just don't have it in you to wrestle a woolly mammoth. Perhaps it's time for you to reconnect with your prehistoric self. A relatively recent arrival here, CrossFit is a cult hardcore programme in the US, where it's the preferred work-out of people who follow the Paleolithic diet (think very few carbs, intermittent fasting and a tonne of red meat). CrossFitters exercise in small groups – adding to the tribal feel – and follow an intense, constantly varied regime of lifting and gymnastics, the idea being that you're ready for anything nature throws at you. Not sure whether that includes placating a vegan at a Paleo dinner party.
For more, see crossfit.com