Trying to Get in Shape? Here's the History Behind the Common New Year's Resolution - Deepstash

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Exercise was not necessary until the mid-20th century

Exercise was not necessary until the mid-20th century

Most people didn't see exercise as necessary until the mid-20th century. Food scarcity meant people didn't overeat, and it didn't make sense to try to burn off the calories.

However, industrialization changed the nature of work and food production. Fewer farmers were doing physical labour, and more people were doing office desk jobs. The growth of automobile culture, the suburban sprawl, and the popularity of television, all led to a more sedentary lifestyle.

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The start of the exercise culture

The exercise culture in the U.S. only took off after World War II.

  • After a 1955 report showed that 57.9% of American kids failed one or more of six physical fitness tests - versus about 8 % of European kids - an executive order was issued to create the President's Council on Youth Fitness.
  • In 1960, President-Elect John F. Kennedy wrote that the increasing lack of physical fitness is a menace to society. This push for fitness led to an expansion of the President's Council on Youth Fitness.

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Entrepreneurs played a key role in establishing the fitness industry

Some entrepreneurs and trainers played a vital role in the rising exercise culture.

  • Health clubs were popularized by the Vic Tanny Gyms chain.
  • Weight-lifting for women was popularized in the 1930s and 1940s by female-bodybuilder Abby "Pudgy" Stockton.
  • In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act paved the way for women to go out and sign up for exercise classes on their own.
  • In the '60s and '70s, exercise became a more accepted and celebrated pursuit.
  • The '80s and '90s saw the expansion of a conversation about diet and fitness.

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Exercise is not a widespread hobby

The rise of exercise culture has that has led to fitness-focused New Year's resolutions does not mean people will exercise. Only 1 in 4 U.S. adults and 1 in 5 high school students meet the recommended physical activity guidelines.

The relentless optimism displayed each year in setting fitness resolutions may reflect an American ideal. The New Year's resolution to get in shape demonstrates a belief in the individual's ability for self-improvement.

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