Dieting and fitness are important to many people's lives today. But they have not always been on everyone's mind. The word diet actually refers to the food that one eats regularly, not a restrictive eating plan. This is why some people are said to have healthy diets, while many others follow poor diets (think fast food, convenience choices, and sugar- and fat-laden treats).
One of the first individuals to put a diet into written form was an Englishman named William Banting. In 1850, Banting could hardly walk down the stairs or tie his own shoes because of his weight. In other words, he was obese (though this term had yet to be coined). After trying starvation, diuretics, and extreme exercise with no success, he found Dr. William Harvey, who recommended that Banting eliminate all sugar and starches from his diet. This approach finally brought success, and Banting lost 50 pounds at a safe rate. More importantly, he wrote about his experience: His pamphlet titled Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public was read by people in countries around the world. Banting's work became the first written record of the low-carbohydrate diet, which is still popular today.
The need and desire to be fit has long been part of the human existence, from primitive man needing to be quick and strong to hunt for food, to the first modern Olympic athletes in 1896 wanting to be quick and strong to win competitions.
In the United States, colonial life was tough enough that simple daily living required a good amount of fitness. According to Lance C. Dalleck and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., authors of The History of Fitness, early leaders such as Benjamin Franklin recommended a daily dose of exercise, including running, swimming, and even resistance training. President Thomas Jefferson also promoted the benefits of exercise, though possibly to extremes, recommending no less than two hours a day of physical activity.
Starting with the Industrial Revolution and continuing on to modern times, many jobs that once required physical effort are now done in part by machines and other forms of technology. As a result, people have become more sedentary, which has increased the need to find forms of exercise outside of physical labor.
One fitness pioneer was Jack LaLanne. In the 1950s, he hosted a successful television program that set the stage for other fitness personalities, such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. LaLanne recommended a program of aerobic movement, either on a floor or in the water, and resistance training using machines with pulleys. He is even credited with inventing the (appropriately named) "jumping jack."
A more recent fitness pioneer is Dr. Ken H. Cooper, who, according to Dalleck and Kravitz, is recognized as the "Father of the Modern Fitness Movement." Cooper emphasizes using fitness not as a treatment course for disease, but as a method of disease prevention. LaLanne and Cooper have spurred many others to write about and promote their own recipes for fitness. Today, many popular fitness gurus, such as Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, become authors as part of their overall involvement in media, which includes television, DVDs, Web sites, and more.
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