Looking Back at Sixty Years of Fitness

America’s love for fitness has been a 60-year roller coaster ride. As a nation we are better informed about health and fitness than ever. The question remains: Is it enough to counteract the sedentary lifestyle imposed by America’s technology driven society?
Will 2010 be the decade we see workplaces add more physical tasks to their workday or a pill that melts fat and cholesterol from our bodies? It stands to reason that the new decade will be no different than the past in changing the landscape of our fitness attitudes and routines.

A Look Back at Sixty Years of Fitness


The Best: Jack LaLanne single-handedly introduced America to fitness and healthier eating. A true visionary in the relatively fit 1950s, LaLanne’s contributions are as relevant today as they were then.
The fitness icon, now in his mid-nineties, still promotes fitness and juicing for better health. A visit to his San Francisco peninsula home will reveal the crude prototypes of almost every exercise machine in use today. He preached eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and introduced Americans to low-fat, high protein yogurt and soy products.
The Worst: Frozen TV dinners, loaded with sodium and fat. The meals featured turkey, corn bread, gravy, buttered peas and sweet potatoes. They cost 98 cents, and the packages were printed like a TV screen.


The Best: Under the Kennedy administration a program was developed to improve the physical fitness of school children. This greater awareness of health spawned a tremendous interest in jogging, then running. America was caught up in a running craze.
The Worse: The early runners pushed themselves to serious ankle and hip injuries. Long, fast, hard pavement runs were the norm. Aerobic classes made their debut with high impact, and its subsequent high injury rates.


The Best: A charismatic Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger took the sport of bodybuilding from dimly lit YMCA’s to international acclaim. The movie Pumping Iron made superstars of the bodybuilders, and contests moved to large auditoriums and standing room only audiences.
Arthur Nautilus introduced his variable resistance pin-loaded machines and weight training became more appealing to women and yuppies. These less intimidating machines gave rise to the 20-minute circuit workout and dozens of new manufacturers begin to flood the market.
The aerobics movement went low-impact on padded flooring and grew to be the most popular exercise for women. Video workouts gave rise to a new generation of aerobic celebrities.
The Worse: With the 1973 publication of “Eating Disorders” there was a surprising increase in both anorexia and bulimia. The newsstand was featuring hard bodies on dozens of covers promoting fitness, running or bodybuilding. Photo shop had not been invented, but there were many ways to manipulate a print image. It was literally impossible to achieve the look on these covers naturally.


The Best: Women were training with weights alongside men, and it wasn’t long until they were competing in bodybuilding contests based on the same principles as the men’s sport. For a few years these toned female physiques captured the public’s imagination and the women’s sport outgrew the men’s, getting prime time television coverage in the mid-1980s.
Ken Cooper’s Institute of Aerobics admitted that the best program of exercise was one that incorporated both aerobics, and weight training. Cybex, Precor, Life Fitness, Star Trac and other companies introduced dozens of attractive, user-friendly machines, while new gyms were opening at an explosive rate.
Jane Fonda videos were selling off the shelves.
The Worst: Running guru and author of “The Complete Book of Running,” Jim Fixx, 52, died of cardiac arrest while on a run. Heart disease ran in his family and medical experts agreed that his running program probably extended his life. It still cast pallor over the running world.
Karen Carpenter’s untimely death shocked the fitness world. Caused by anorexia nervosa, the attention on physical perfection was blamed in part for her death and the increase in eating disorders. By the mid 1980s, college campuses instituted counseling and support systems.
Women’s bodybuilding, the shining star in 1980, had all but burnt out in less than ten years of steroid and growth hormone abuse. The general public and sponsors went running and a lot of women turned away from the weight room.


The Best: Fitness education had improved immensely and strict standards in certifications brought a higher degree of professionalism to health clubs. Aerobic classes became more diverse offering hybrid class like Zumba and Kick-boxing and Power Step. Pilates and Yoga gained new popularity.
Women only clubs offered downsized machines and a simple circuit workout. Curves introduced an entire generation of women to fitness, women who would never go to a Gold’s, World’s or 24 Hour Fitness gym.
The Worst: The sport of women’s bodybuilding got freakier than ever, causing women to move further away from weight rooms, either to female clubs or the aerobics room
Obesity levels were on the rise, diabetes was becoming an epidemic and the younger people seemed to suffering the most


The Best: Spinning gave us one of the best calorie burns ever. Boot camps took workouts outside and back to basics. The stigma of female bodybuilders was fading, and women began returning to weight rooms. It was established that exercise must include a variety of factors: aerobics, resistance training, stretching and stress release techniques such as meditation.
The Worst: A recession induced reduction in health club memberships. The failure of the past 60 years to curb every increasing numbers of obese Americans.

What’s Lies in 2010?

We know more about how the human body responds to exercise than ever before. Fitness and medical professionals agree a change needs to come in the American lifestyle. One thing for certain, we will all be part of it.