House Calls / Dr. Michael Schwartz

Boxing, boot camps, Zumba and mixed martial arts are just a few of the increasingly popular fitness crazes sweeping across America. These high-intensity motivational classes combine aerobic training, weight lifting, coordination and muscle conditioning all in one activity.

Most gyms now offer these unique programs for their members. However, some people take it a bit further -- actually competing in amateur contact competitions.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing have been around for hundreds of years. MMA, unlike boxing, combines punching, kicking, wrestling and striking. Although dating back to the Roman Empire, MMA became more popular in the 1990s when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held its first event. Since that time, many other organizations have been created to promote these contests. Its popularity has soared, especially with younger age groups. More and more people are taking part in MMA fitness in an attempt to lose weight, increase endurance and improve overall health and, on occasion, compete.

Michael Mazzulli, the director of the Department of Athletics Regulations at the Mohegan Sun casino said, "The popularity of MMA has exploded, especially for those between the ages of 18 to 45 who watch these events."

Michael explains that after MMA was legalized, it became so popular that gyms and fitness centers developed programs for amateur tournaments. He advises people thinking about taking these classes to be cautious.

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"We do see some injuries in these classes -- even though much of the competition is exhibition style," he said.

The most common injuries he sees are cuts to the face and joint sprains.

"As I always tell fans wishing to get involved in these sports, boxing and MMA can be quite dangerous. However, in boxing, the goal is to hit someone in the head. MMA on the other hand combines more wrestling and grappling, thus fewer concussions."

Nevertheless, MMA is just one of the options available for fitness enthusiasts. Many other programs are offered as well and most are non-contact.

Bokwa Fitness This relatively new fitness sensation combines African dancing, kick boxing and steps in an intense cardiovascular workout. It tends to be quite challenging and has been shown to promote significant weight loss because it burns a high number of calories.

Cross fit, P90X and Tabata As one of the fastest growing fitness programs, these activities combine high speed and intensity in order to promote muscle building, toning, weight loss and aerobic fitness. Often utilizing fitness equipment (e.g. treadmills or stationary bicycle) their goal is to workout at very high intensity with short rest periods. The theory is that health benefits can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time.

Pilates This is a low-impact fitness program which utilizes breathing, stretching and smooth gentle movements in order to promote strength and flexibility. The workout can be geared to all ages and abilities. It has been shown to improve posture, increase energy and may help promote a sense of well-being.

Piloxing Piloxing combines Pilates and boxing in one fitness activity. Balance, posture and movement are combined with the speed and force of a boxing workout. It has been shown to burn calories and tone muscles.

Sh'Bam This form of fitness emphasizes movement and dance to Latin rhythms such as the merengue, salsa and reggae. It helps with flexibility, coordination and endurance while promoting core strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Yoga This very popular program emphasizes poses, stretching, breathing and relaxation in order to produce a sense of well-being. Although yoga may include high intensity workouts, it often focuses on strength and flexibility.

Zumba This activity utilizes dance and aerobics to promote cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility all in one activity. It is one of the most popular fitness activities offered in gyms around the country and can be modified to suit all age groups.

Regardless of type of fitness activity, exercise may improve body, soul and mind. Spending even 30 minutes a day three times a week exercising has been shown to produce significant health benefits. How strenuous you choose to exercise is an individual decision; however, before undertaking any exercise program, consult your physician. It may be necessary to evaluate your heart before you begin any exercise program. Contact your local gym or fitness center for more information on courses offered.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. Contact Dr. Schwartz at