Let’s face it; most of us come down with it every January. No, not the flu. Even worse. That overwhelming sense of urgency to finally get in shape. And when it happens, it’s pandemonium. Gym memberships triple, Pilates classes fill up, and the commute to work is a half hour longer because you have to inch your way through joggers and bicycles. Then there are the radical dietary changes, particularly among married couples. Husbands will try to quit drinking, and wives will check out what’s trending at the local health food store.
This year, look for the missus to stock up on chai seeds, agave or kombucha tea. But there seems to be an antidote for this type of mentality. It’s called February. During that month, the obsession with getting fit gradually dissipates in most cases, and life returns to normal.
Now that’s not to say the exercise and fitness craze disappears. Quite the contrary. In fact, it’s a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry fueled by the media. Think about it. We’re bombarded with new information about healthy living every day. If you don’t believe it, just flip through today’s newspaper. There is bound to be an article on yet another way to prepare tilapia or the life-changing benefits from an extra set of donkey calf raises.
So when did exercise and staying in shape become such a dedicated activity? I’ve always been led to believe that the fitness movement began less than 60 years ago. Not true. Man’s quest for fitness actually began thousands of years ago, and it was driven by a desire to survive. Cavemen would typically go on one- to two-day hunting trips for food and water. (At least that’s what they told their cave wives.) Their success was entirely dependent on whether they were in good shape. This attitude continued through the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, which marked the dawn of civilization around 10,000 B.C.
The ancient Greeks also put a premium on fitness, as evidenced by the first Olympic Games held in 776 B.C. It was essentially a bunch of naked guys chasing each other around a stadium. As other events were added, these ancient Games became extremely popular and continued for more than a thousand years.
The benefits of exercise were not lost on the Romans either, particularly during a period known as the Pax Romana. This was about a 200-year span that ran from 27 B.C. to 180 A.D. and is still believed to be the most peaceful time on earth. The only downside was always trying to remember to put A.D. instead of B.C. on personal checks. Galen, the most prominent Roman physician and philosopher of his time, extolled the virtue of increasing the heart rate through exercise. But because everyone was so happy, he didn’t realize that intense anger also increases the heart rate. Of course Galen never got to spend an hour on the phone with someone in technical support.
However, lavish lifestyles eventually took their toll, and Roman civilization eventually succumbed to the more physically fit barbarians from the North. Fitness awareness actually saw an increase until the latter part of the Middle Ages. By then, no one had time to exercise because everybody was busy dying of the plague.
Over the next few hundred years, things stayed relatively status quo until the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s. New technologies allowed for decreased physical activity, which in turn resulted in a decline in fitness. This problem was finally brought to the forefront in the 1950s by an exercise phenom named Jack LaLanne. Most experts believe he single-handedly started the modern fitness revolution.
Yeah, no question about it. All medical evidence seems to support the virtue of exercise. But I’m still hesitant to join the fitness revolution. I keep remembering the quote of the late Neil Armstrong. He said, “I believe every human being has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.” I think about that quote every time I see a treadmill. I will admit to trying to tone up my calves. That’s why I always slip on my Skechers before I head to the refrigerator. Trust me, it’s the only thing you need to do. I was out at a friend’s ranch and happened to see actual donkey calves. Not very impressive.