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Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (Culture America)by Shelly Mckenzie
Synopses & Reviews
From Charles Atlas to Jane Fonda, the fitness movement has been a driving force in American culture for more than half a century. What started as a means of Cold War preparedness now sees 45 million Americans spend more than $20 billion a year on gym memberships, running shoes, and other fitness-related products.
In this first book on the modern history of exercise in America, Shelly McKenzie chronicles the governmental, scientific, commercial, and cultural forces that united—sometimes unintentionally—to make exercise an all-American habit. She tracks the development of a new industry that gentrified exercise and made the pursuit of fitness the hallmark of a middle-class lifestyle. Along the way she scrutinizes a number of widely held beliefs about Americans and their exercise routines, such as the link between diet and exercise and the importance of workplace fitness programs.
While Americans have always been keen on cultivating health and fitness, before the 1950s people who were preoccupied with their health or physique were often suspected of being homosexual or simply odd. As McKenzie reveals, it took a national panic about children's health to galvanize the populace and launch President Eisenhower's Council on Youth Fitness. She traces this newborn era through TV trailblazer Jack La Lanne's popularization of fitness in the '60s, the jogging craze of the '70s, and the transformation of the fitness movement in the '80s, when the emphasis shifted from the individual act of running to the shared health-club experience. She also considers the new popularity of yoga and Pilates, reflecting today's emphasis on leanness and flexibility in body image.
In providing the first real cultural history of the fitness movement, McKenzie goes beyond simply recounting exercise trends to reveal what these choices say about the people who embrace them. Her examination also encompasses battles over food politics, nutrition problems like our current obesity epidemic, and people left behind by the fitness movement because they are too poor to afford gym memberships or basic equipment.
In a country where most of us claim to be regular exercisers, McKenzie's study challenges us to look at why we exercise—or at least why we think we should—and shows how fitness has become a vitally important part of our American identity.
A lively cultural history of exercise in America, this book tracks the development of a new industry that gentrified exercise and mad ethe pursuit of fitness the hallmark of a middle-class lifestyle.
Cyclotourism has recently risen to prominence with growing national media coverage and thousands of participants taking to Americaandrsquo;s roadways on two wheels and under their own pedal power.
But the concept is not new. More than a century ago, George B. Thayer took his own first andldquo;century,andrdquo; or one-hundred-mile bicycle ride. The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer brings to life the experience of late nineteenth-century cycling through the heartfelt story of this important cycling pioneer.
In 1886, just two years after his first century, Thayer rode his high wheeler across the United States, traveling from his home in Connecticut to California and back. Thayer took an indirect route without any intent to set speed records, but his trip was full of adventure nonetheless. Thayer loved going downhill, his legs over the handlebars, risking life and limb atop the large wheel on often rough and muddy roads. With aplomb and humor, he dealt with the countless other hazards he encountered, including dogs, mule teams, and wild hogs. Even bad weather and poor sleeping conditions could not keep Thayer down.
After his epic tour across the United States, Thayer had the urge to cycle abroad and eventually toured England, Germany, Belgium, and Canada on his bike. His later travels were in part aided by his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, which was the epicenter of American bicycle manufacturing in the late 1890s. In addition to telling Thayerandrsquo;s cycling story, Kevin J. Hayes brings to life the culture of cycling and its rise at the end of the nineteenth century, when bikes became more affordable and the nationandrsquo;s riding craze took off.
On his seventieth birthday in 1909, a slim man with a shock of white hair, a walrus mustache, and a spring in his step faced west from Park Row in Manhattan and started walking. By the time Edward Payson Weston was finished, he was in San Francisco, having trekked 3,895 miles in 104 days.
Westonand#8217;s first epic walk across America transcended sport. He was and#8220;everymanand#8221; in a stirring battle against the elements and exhaustion, tramping along at the pace of someone decades younger. Having long been Americaand#8217;s greatest pedestrian, he was attempting the most ambitious and physically taxing walk of his career. He walked most of the way alone when the car that he hired to follow him kept breaking down, and he often had to rest without adequate food or shelter. That Weston made it is one of the truly great but forgotten sports feats of all time. Thanks in large part to his daily dispatches of his travailsand#8212;from blizzards to intense heat, rutted roads, bad shoes, and illnessand#8212;Westonand#8217;s trek became a wonder of the ages and attracted international headlines to the sport called and#8220;pedestrianism.and#8221;
Aided by long-buried archival information, colorful biographical details, and Westonand#8217;s diary entries, Walk of Ages is more than a book about a man going for a walk. It is an epic tale of beating the odds and a penetrating look at a vanished time in America.
About the Author
Jim Reisler is the author of eight baseball books, most notably Babe Ruth: Launching the Legend, and is the editor of Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Fitness in American Culture
1. "Fitness Begins in the High Chair": Exercise in the Cold War
2. "Your Honeymoon Figure": Women's Weight Reduction and Exercise in the 1960s
3. The Heart of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: Men's Exercise Promotion and the Cardiac Crisis
4. Run for Your Life: Joggin in the 1960s and 1970s
5. Temples of the Body: Health Clubs and 1980s Fitness Culture
Epilogue: The Future of Fitness
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