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National Fitness Month

Business-Men's Class [graphic arts]

Obsession with being fit is not a phenomenon that appeared in the late 20th century. It has been a factor of human civilization since man’s most primitive hunter-gatherer period. The citizens of ancient Greece held the beauty of a physically well-formed body in high regard. Early Roman civilization could not have conquered so much territory without a physically fit military. During the Age of Enlightenment and the nationalistic period gymnastics, especially for school students, became popular. European immigrants to the United States brought the concepts of physical training with them and incorporated them into the American culture. Cultural and lifestyle changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, such as the population shift from rural to urban settings and inventions of labor-saving devices, meant fewer physically demanding activities. In the 20th century interest in physical fitness flagged somewhat in the periods before and after the two World Wars but picked up during the Cold War era, especially with President Kennedy. Fitness advocates such as Jack LaLanne and Dr. Kenneth Cooper became household names, followed by such personalities as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. Exercise physiology is now a recognized field of research and results are published in scientific and medical journals. The benefits of ‘working out’ are well known. As someone who has been an avid exerciser for years I have some tips:

  • No fad diet, apparatus, or medication will magically make you fit or lose weight; it will always be a matter of ‘calories in/calories out’
  • Find a program or activity that you enjoy doing. If it becomes a chore and no longer fun you will lose interest and cease doing it
  • Vary your activity from day to day: mix up aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility exercises


George Bellows’ Business-Men's Class [graphic arts] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son).

Repository:  Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Reference:  The History of Fitness, by Lance C. Dalleck and Len Kravitz

—Polly Lasker

One Comment

  1. Happy National Fitness Month. Enjoyed this post. Yes, long before 24 hour fitness gyms were a fad, fitness has been a critical part of society especially in military and martial arts.
    Good fitness tips, especially finding a workout that you enjoy. It’s much easier to stay in shape if what you’re doing is fun rather than a chore.

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