'75 Hard' Challenge Has Benefits but Presents Health Risks

The ‘75 Hard’ program is wildly trending online, with many trying it as their New Year’s resolution. Despite its popularity, experts say the challenge is extreme and can present both mental and physical health risks.

New fitness and dietary trends are constantly emerging on social media, though one trend in particular seems to be taking the internet by storm at the moment: "75 Hard."

The challenge involves sticking to a rigid list of fitness, dietary, and lifestyle rules for a period of 75 days with the goal of getting in better physical and mental shape. Many content creators on Instagram and TikTok have been trying the program and sharing their results, with some undertaking the challenge as a New Year’s resolution.

Despite its current popularity, the program was actually invented by entrepreneur and podcaster Andy Frisella back in 2019. His website, which outlines the details of the challenge, says it is "not a fitness challenge" but a "transformative mental toughness program." The site also bills it as "an ironman for your brain" and a way to "take complete control of your life in only 75 days."

The website also includes a disclaimer that individuals should consult their physician or other health care professional before starting the program, and for good reason, according to Danielle Smith, a certified registered dietician at Top Nutrition Coaching.

"While the ‘75 Hard’ challenge aims to build discipline and ‘mental toughness,’ its one-size-fits-all, extreme approach carries several risks," Smith tells Healthnews. "It's important for individuals to consider these pitfalls and consult with healthcare or fitness professionals before undertaking such a regimen, especially if they have pre-existing health conditions or specific fitness goals."

What it entails

The program consists of five non-negotiable steps:

  1. Follow a diet of your choice. This can be any diet of your choosing, but it must be chosen with the goal of improving your physical health. No cheating on the diet whatsoever, and no alcohol allowed.
  2. Work out twice a day, for 45 minutes each. At least one of the workouts must be done outdoors.
  3. Drink one gallon of water each day.
  4. Read 10 pages of a book each day.
  5. Take a picture of your progress.

The downsides

"The challenge applies the same strict regimen to everyone, regardless of individual health needs, fitness levels, and personal circumstances," Smith says. "This lack of personalization can be problematic and potentially unsafe."

The challenge can also present a host of potential risks when it comes to psychological health, according to registered social worker, psychotherapist, and co-founder of Shift Collab, Megan Rafuse.

"The allure of becoming an idealized future self can lead to short-term, all-or-nothing thinking and quick fixes, setting individuals up for potential failure and exhaustion," Rafuse says to Healthnews. "The challenge's promotion of an all-or-nothing mentality, coupled with its emphasis on perfectionism, can contribute to cognitive distortions and heightened anxiety."

Strict dietary restrictions and intense exercise regimens may also increase the risk of eating disorders, Rafuse explains, as the challenge lacks flexibility and celebrates potentially harmful behaviors without professional oversight. The intensity, time demands, lack of flexibility, and peer comparisons can lead to detrimental emotional consequences, she adds.

Physically, the challenge carries health risks including the potential for overtraining and injury, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration or overhydration, and the potential to exacerbate existing health conditions, according to Smith.

"Engaging in two 45-minute workouts every day, especially without rest days, can lead to overtraining and symptoms including excessive fatigue, decreased performance, injuries, and prolonged recovery times," Smith says. "The challenge's strict dietary rules, without room for flexibility, can lead to nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, especially if the participant's chosen diet lacks variety or is not tailored to their individual nutritional needs."

And while the "75 Hard" challenge might provide a short-term structure for building discipline and resilience, Smith says its extreme and inflexible nature makes it difficult to sustain over the long term. Sustainable health and fitness regimens typically require balance, personalization, and adaptability to individual needs and life circumstances, which this challenge lacks, she explains.

The benefits

The program may still have positive effects on those who choose to undertake it, though this depends on the individual and their needs. According to Smith, these benefits may include the development of mental resilience, discipline and consistency, improved physical fitness, the formation of healthy habits, weight loss and body composition changes, increased self-confidence, enhanced focus and productivity, and stress management.

It can also present social benefits, Rafuse adds. "Sharing a goal with others and being mutually accountable in a constructive way can have significant advantages for our social needs," she says. "It can foster new friendships, strengthen bonds, and mitigate feelings of isolation and loneliness, providing a substantial benefit for our mental health."

Alternatives

If you’re looking to improve your mental and physical health without taking part in such an extreme program, Rafuse recommends seeking guidance from experts who can provide evidence-based programs tailored to your goals. This may include consulting a registered dietician to improve nutrition or a personal trainer to improve fitness.

Enhancing physical and mental health is a personalized journey, she says, and it’s important to identify goals you can actually achieve, such as opting for a run-walk of one mile if you haven't run in years — rather than setting an unrealistic target.

It’s also essential to understand the motive behind your behavior change, she says, whether it's related to fitness, nutrition, sleep, reading, or mental health.

"Choose activities that bring joy to avoid dread," she says. "Enjoying the process fosters consistency."

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