Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I remember when fitness wasn't a thing

Passing a small car park near my home on Saturday I found it full of people in their thirties exercising under the eye of a couple of military-looking fitness instructors. This was taking place within yards of a couple of gyms, which were also full to bursting.

In my lifetime no change has taken place which is more dramatic and far-reaching than the renewed emphasis on fitness. I cannot tell you just how uninterested people used to be in exercise and diet. When I was in my twenties I didn't know anybody who ran, swam, cycled or went the gym. The only gyms were sinister-looking places above shops from which came the sound of boxing glove landing on punch bag. Nobody had trainers, either the footwear or human variety. It was not, to use a modern expression, a thing. Anybody seen indulging in any exercise for the simple reason that it might improve their appearance or prolong their life would have been thought conceited.

Since then a behavioural wave has swept the country which can only be compared to the temperance movement of the early 19th century. Our local swimming pool, which used to be somewhat down at heel, has been transformed into a fitness centre and is now thrumming with activity even at 6:30 in the morning. Visitors from the early 70s or even the 80s would not be able to believe their eyes.

Changes like this always make me wonder the same thing. What's going to change in the next forty years that will render the world we now live in just as unrecognisable to us on our hundredth birthdays?


  1. I would stretch the observation a little further David. What would observers from the 70’s make of the phenomenon of people who only listen to music as an accompaniment to exercise? It’s rare to see a runner without a set of headphones attached. Swimmers are at it too!

  2. And yet we are constantly told that as a nation we are fat and idle.
    I suspect fitness inequality is just as wide as income inequality.

  3. At school I played cricket and football and ran about like a mad thing, the energy coming from being young. Just like everybody else.

    Getting a bit older and moving into more sedentary pursuits, work in particular, I began to feel "less fit".

    For no reason I particularly recall, I started jogging (remember that?) in the mid-seventies. I did want to lose weight and generally get fitter, but that was all. No targets, no regime. It worked, funnily enough. Reducing calorie intake played its part, too.

    I did get some decent trainers, and they made a big difference. In 1981, The London Marathon kick-started big sales in trainers and jogging in general. I never bothered with it, but now I almost wish I had. I was certainly fit enough then.

    Sadly after about 20 years, my back and my right knee began to protest and I quickly had to change gear to what is now called power walking. It's not the same, but it's okay. However, running is generally out of the question.

    I think the current generation of fitness-seekers are in line for a big shock before too long. No matter how "supervised" their regime may be. I wish them luck, however. I wish I had the back and knee to join in.

    All that said, I don't know how anybody can actually listen to music if they're concentrating on breathing. I quite enjoyed the jogging, but I don't think I could have enjoyed both at the same time.

    Academic now. Sigh....

  4. McLean probably won't want reminding, but his karaoke staple was kept off the coveted Number One Slot by Chicory Tip.

  5. Also true of tattoos (seen as the mark of a ne'er do well until the late 80s) - and vegetarianism (standared issue: nut cutlets, rancid grim-burger or reformed fruit/veg piled inside a pineapple until the 90s).

    By the way I don't have tattoos, am not a veggie and don't keep any regular fitness routine..

  6. On my recent trip back to Blighty was taken aback by the number of people who should know better riding bikes on the main road. And wearing Lycra. Brightly coloured and tight fitting Lycra.

    I stopped riding a bike when I passed my driving test. Way too dangerous in 1977. Never going back again. Especially if it involves Lycra.

  7. Exercise continues to be a perverse, narcissistic act to me. Eat sensibly, drink less booze, keep mobile - sounds infinitely better than the awfulness of smelly, decerebrate gyms full of people I don't like playing music I hate. I realise I am off-message and out of times. So what's new?