Ch. 8 – “The Tyranny of the Wheel”

Chapter 8 details the great shift in attitude that began in the 1950s when Bonnie Prudden radically proposed that everyone exercise in a society which believed vigorous exercise, especially after forty years of age, was potentially fatal. Similarly, gyms at the time were also frowned upon, as they were considered dangerous breeding grounds for homosexuality and criminal behavior due to a few all-male facilities located in inner cities while much of America was fleeing to the new suburbs. Kunitz identifies Jack LaLanne alongside Prudden as the revolutionaries who introduced regular exercise to the greater American population. Prudden blamed sedentary modern lifestyle, stemming from “the wheel” of the stroller or car, for her own daughters’ lack of vigor and set out to examine the fitness levels of children throughout America and Europe. Prudden found 57.9% of American children failed one or more of the six physical fitness competencies she tested, just as nearly 50% of American draftees had failed their physical examinations just a few years before during World War II. Because of her work, the Kennedy administration established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (PCYF), which soon became the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, to attempt to reverse these trends. The PCYF defined fitness as more than just physical, but spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and cultural. Alluding back to the ethos of political gymnastics, the PCYF furthered the idea that a healthy population makes for a stronger, more dynamic nation. However, Kunitz explains, this new national value on fitness was not enough to change people’s ways, as confusion remained surrounding how to exercise and what exactly exercise entails.