The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Fitness Through the Decades

By: Catelyn Roth-Johnson

Whether a person chooses to exercise or not, fitness trends reflect a society’s culture. From leg warmers and Tony Little Gazelles, to modern day crazes, such as Insanity and Zumba, fitness has made strides in the past five years.  Come take a brisk walk through the decades and see where exercise has been, where it’s at now and where it’s headed.

cave painting

Prehistoric and Ancient Civilizations

During prehistoric times, hunting and gathering required sufficient physical fitness skills as a means of survival. Members of a tribe who could jump, run and herd animals were placed in high regard. Dr. Carolyn Smith, executive director of the Marquette University Medical Clinic, says that in this prehistoric period, fitness was absolutely necessary if you wanted to survive.

“Walking and running is how we got from place A to place B,” Smith says. “You physically had to run as fast as you could to get your next meal.”

Ancient civilizations such as China developed a form of gymnastics known as Kung Fu to increase their flexibility and stamina to hunt down food. Additionally, Yoga – translated as “union” – was developed by Indian Hindu priests who hoped to achieve the same balance in nature as the animals they observed in the wild.

Among the most physically fit were the Spartans, who sought after intense training because it helped them to better perform in battle. Often referred to as extremists, young Spartan boys were shipped off as early as six years old to start their military duties.

“The Shift” of Mindset: the 1950s-1970s

As labor moved from farms and factories to cubicles, agility and strength were no longer required to hold a well-paying job.  Sweat, muscle soreness and shortness of breath from pulling a plow and harvesting crops were a thing of the past. This was the age of technology! People were spending more time sitting than ever before, which meant they had to take time out of their hectic schedules—between work, family and friends—to make a point to exercise if they wanted to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Deb Swanson, associate director of recreational sports at Marquette and certified recovery support specialist, remembers when this so-called “shift” occurred.

“It was a difficult time because we no longer depended on subsets of fitness for our survival.  Hair loss is also one of the concerns for men with foo health and fitness. Hence, following can work wonders. It was now a choice,” Swanson says. “Beginning with this time, fitness transformed into a lifestyle choice, and it can become detrimental if we don’t take the choice seriously.”


Group Fitness and Video Tapes Roar: 1980s

The 1980s were filled with Jazzercise, Richard Simmons’s workout tapes, and YMCA group fitness classes. In this era, the height of the classic “workout apparel” emerged with the excited fascination that exercise was an enjoyable past time—not a necessity. Jane Fonda and Judi Shepard Missett made careers out of these at-home fitness tapes.

Shannon Bustillos, assistant director of recreational sports and associate group fitness supervisor at Marquette, believes group exercise helps keep participants motivated, and allows them to be in a setting that is comfortable.

“Some like to work out alone, whereas others tend to be motivated in group settings,” Bustillos says. “Keeping the participants in an area that suits them is key to keeping them on track.”

Social butterflies and wallflowers alike have their own preferences on exercising. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, a person is three times more likely to work out if it is an activity that they enjoy.


The year 2013 marks the period where a vast number of options are offered throughout the fitness world. Rather than sprinting to catch food, we jog to Lake Michigan. Zumba is the new Jazzercise and Crossfit is group-fitness on steroids.

“Lost are the days of people not joining a gym because they didn’t know how to use a weight room,” Bustillos says. “There are a myriad of options available; heck, even Prancercise has taken off!”

Other technology trends include mobile exercise apps, such as Fitness Pal, Weightwatchers, SHAPE magazine and Nike Fitness. These interactive online fitness programs can track every calorie burned and every drop of sweat that slides off your forehead. Most apps are free, making this a great option for those on a budget who can’t afford a gym membership.

Fitness in the Future

Technology can only lead to what some call a “virtual” exercise experience.

Bustillos says she envisions a full-scale gym and classes that are computer based and require no need for personal interaction.

“A perfect example of this is a new system called Fitness on Demand. It is basically a large iPod-type screen where a person can choose from hundreds of classes.  When they choose a class, a large projector-screen comes down and the group class is shown on the screen.”

There are many pros and cons when it comes to a digital fitness society. The perks include low-cost and accessibility. However, group fitness supervisors like Bustillos question the lack of social interactions among participants.

“This program alleviates the need for instructors,” Bustillos says.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is expected the United States spends an average of $40 billion annually on weight-loss products, clothes, equipment, classes and gym-memberships combined.  So although the future of fitness is hard to predict right now, one thing is certain – exercise isn’t going anywhere.

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *