A brief history (and a look into the future) of fitness technology
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Have you recently taken ownership of a shiny new activity tracking device? For many people, the essential fitness kit now includes gadgets designed not for sitting and staring at a screen, but for encouraging users to get up and move.And they even come with political recommendations. For the UK Government, apps like MapMyRun and Strava and wearable technologies made by Fitbit and Jawbone are the future. According to one official document: “[They] will define the world of sport and physical activity in the coming decade.” But health and fitness technologies also have a long history. At the beginning of the 20th century, physical activity was seen by some as a bulwark against the ills of modernisation, such as the increasingly sedentary nature of work. As the American educator Dudley Sargent put it in his 1906 book Physical Education:
A large portion of the population never use half their faculties, and if they pursue the same employment for a term of years they are apt to acquire defects of structure, if not of constitution and character, that are transmitted to the next generation.Physical activity as a leisure pursuit became highly significant. Mechanical apparatus such as wall-attachable weight-pulley devices were designed to guard against such “defects of structure” – and of character, too. In other words, the point was to bolster the body and mind. According to some, this would ensure the well-being of the population. These were not just devices for men. The 1904 book Physical Culture for Women, authored by the world champion woman bag-puncher Belle Gordon, featured an advertisement for the “Fox Exerciser” weight-pulley machine. As a resistance training device, the Fox Exerciser was similar to exercise equipment promoted by other proponents of physical culture, such as famous strongman Eugen Sandow. Nearly a century later, another movement was afoot: the fitness boom of the 1970s and 1980s. At this point, electronic technology became especially important in combating the sedentary nature of modern living. Electronic technology meant communication devices like the VCR (videocassette recorder). Actress Jane Fonda’s exercise videos modelled what an “ideal” body looked like and how it might be attained. And they sold in their millions. Meanwhile, devices such as electronic treadmills and exercise bikes became staples in fitness gyms, and were also widely available as home equipment. In its July 1989 edition, outdoors magazine Field and Stream highlighted the merits of these electronic devices, claiming they were “smoother and quieter, more convenient to use than most mechanical systems, and provide a workout customised to your fitness level”.
The future of fitness
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