Thirty years. That’s amazing. Did I start this in kindergarten? Actually, when I created the column while writing features and reviewing television and theater at the Chicago Tribune, fitness was just beginning to creep into the consciousness of the nation. So was CB radio and needlepoint.
It was 1976. Jumping jacks were still in style, only tough guys belonged to gyms, and yoga and tofu were considered interchangeable terms.
Things have changed, including the format of this column, but just for today. I’m going to interview my most personal trainer, me:
Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in fitness in 30 years?
A: That’s impossible to answer. Ask me another question.
Q: No, seriously.
A: OK then, fitness isn’t just about exercise anymore. It’s evolved into something much grander and more important. To me, fitness is all about living a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy lifestyle wasn’t even an expression 30 years ago. Now it’s a booming industry that includes physical exercise, mental clarity, smart eating, strength training, relaxation, stress reduction, adventure travel, yoga and tofu, and almost everything sold at Whole Foods.
As for jumping jacks, forget it. It turns out they can really screw up your back.
Q: Should everyone exercise?
A: No. Only people who want to feel better, live longer and have more energy. Regular physical activity - in modest amounts, enough to get the heart working and the juices flowing - really is the secret to a healthier, happier, more joyful life.
Q: So why have they stopped physical education classes in schools all across the country?
A: What a great question. This is one of the most sickening developments in the last 30 years. No wonder school kids are fatter and more troubled.
We took away their gym time, force-fed them all sorts of toxic food and drink, and now we sit back and watch the drug companies sell kids sleeping pills and antidepressants in record numbers. It may take 30 more years to untangle this mess.
Q: What are the three best fitness trends of the past 30 years?
A: Why just three? There is so much to celebrate.
The profound connection between body and mind is mainstream now, and millions of people are open to healing therapies that include the best of the East - acupuncture, certain herbs, meditation - with the best of the West - joint replacement, certain drug advances, hand washing.
In the last 30 years, we have positively redefined what it is to grow old. Ninety-year-olds are running marathons. People in wheelchairs are climbing mountains. A healthy lifestyle is an active lifestyle, and entire communities of active lifestylers are popping up, going green, looking inward.
The last 30 years has also brought huge changes in the numbers of women who play sports and get sports scholarships. Remember when girls who played softball were taunted as tomboys?
My sister was warned not to ride her bike on campus because it wasn’t ladylike. Her daughter just finished her first triathlon. That’s progress.
Q: Can you please give shorter answers?
Q: What’s the most frustrating part of your job?
A: Knowing how many people still go on diets. It’s a sucker’s game. There are no shortcuts to permanent weight loss, no pill, no special drink that is going to melt the fat away.