Fitness Throughout History- The 1970’s

While we might remember the 70’s solely for its cultural revolutions, there was a lot going on in the fitness world too!  The 1970’s saw great strides forward in the popularity of exercise, especially amongst women! For the first time in the US women were being accepted as athletes, and more women than ever were taking part in individual workouts, as well as group classes which were especially popular during this time. Aerobics, made popular in the 60’s, was still going strong. But a new exercise fad was gaining traction- Jazzercise! Jazzercise is a high intensity workout, blending jazz dance, ballet, Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing. Often done in a group setting, this workout craze was fun and involved the whole body!

We also saw a rise in something we now consider a fitness staple- jogging. Before the 1970’s, it was uncommon to see anyone running in the street. During this period, however, men and women took to the streets for the first time. Approximately 30 million Americans took up the sport. Some ran by themselves, but many ran in groups, as running groups and clubs were formed throughout the country. 5k and 10k races became popular, and while marathon running was still not as popular as it is today, many cities throughout the nation did hold marathon races. 

While there was a lot of progress happening in the world of fitness, there was also a much darker side present. Yet again, fad diets were really popular. One such diet was the “Last Chance Diet”. Marketed to those who felt like they had tried it all, and wanted to lose weight quickly. This diet was particularly dangerous. It involved drinking a low calorie, low in nutrient “shake” which consisted of animal by-products. We are talking horns, hide, cartilage, and tendons. It was taken off the market after a few of its users died from consuming it. The Scarsdale diet was much tamer, and basically a short term Atkins diet. The 14 day program was low carb, high in protein, and low in calories. 

Some of the darkest moments in fitness history during this decade were made very public due to media coverage of Elvis Presley. During the 60’s, Elvis was a global sex symbol. However, his weight ballooned during the 70’s- something he was very aware of. It is well known that he enjoyed his “southern comfort” meals, which in conjunction with his mental decline and use of illegal substances and alcohol abuse, contributed to his weight gain. In the present day, he would have likely been offered help for an eating disorder, or at the very least been advised to seek mental health counseling. Unfortunately, at the time he was dubbed as “fat Elvis”, and towards the end of his life made desperate and unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. 

In his desperation (and armed with many misunderstandings about weight management and exercise), he tried a variety of crash diets. He once tried a diet where he only ate jelly made of black cherry soda and bananas. His efforts to curb his binges were always short lived and unhealthy. Towards the end of his life, he turned to the “sleeping beauty diet”- a “diet” in which he would take sleeping pills to avoid eating. The doctors in his life aided him in this dangerous path as well, with one doctor even putting him into a medically induced coma to avoid food. This obviously was not a long term or effective option, and some say that it ultimately contributed to further drug abuse. If you are curious about how calorie dense and nutritionless his diet became in the later years of his career, there is an article linked below. 

Are there any other fads during the 70’s that you’ve heard about? Have you ever tried Jazzercise? And to all the women out there- go enjoy a jog, get a workout in today, and remember, we really are true athletes, even if it took the world way too long to recognize it.