Are We There Yet?

Fitness '97, February 1997


Are We There Yet?

Two decades of fitness grail-seeking, including a misstep or two from the master himself
By Mike Grudowski


1976
To Load or Not to Load, the Prologue: Nathan Pritikin opens the Longevity Center in Santa Barbara, California, and sets a widely accepted dietary standard in which at least 75 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, less than 15 percent from protein, and no more than 10 percent from fat.

1977
We jog, therefore we're fit: Jim Fixx's Complete Book of Running stays on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.

Mark Allen swims for the University of California at San Diego; later will describe himself as a "pretty mediocre" backstroker who "hated distance."

1979
Grete Waitz breaks 2:30 women's barrier at the New York Marathon.

1980
We jog, therefore we're really fit? Study in New England Journal of Medicine shows that the more people run, the higher their levels of HDL cholesterol-new evidence that exercise may help prevent heart disease.

Really, it works! The Trendmark Corporation patents a weight-loss device designed "to reduce consumption by one bite per meal." Dieter keeps track by pressing a button before each bite.

1981
No, honest, it does work: Richard Simmons, self-proclaimed Pied Piper of Pounds, prances onto best-seller lists with his Never-Say-Diet Book.

Sales of running shoes more than double from 1977 levels, reaching $328 million annually.

The New York Times declares health clubs "the singles' bars of the 80's."

1982
To Load or Not to Load, Chapter One: Scientists discover that cutting protein intake in half greatly lengthens the lives of lab rats and speculate that same results will occur in humans.

California surfer Julie Moss collapses 15 feet from Ironman Triathlon finish line, crawls across to place second. Millions will later watch taped broadcast on ABC-including Mark Allen, who decides to take up the sport.

We jog, therefore...? Nielsen survey indicates that 34 million Americans run at least once a year, but studies show that fewer than half of American children can meet fitness standards that should be attainable by the average child.

Allen, training with low mileage and high intensity, finishes fourth in his first race, behind Dave Scott, Scott Molina, and Scott Tinley; quits job when local investment firm sponsors him; becomes a vegetarian.

1983
We jog, therefore...we're nuts? New England Journal of Medicine reports that marathon runners have a "pathological" personality disorder similar to that of anorexic women.

No, seriously, it really does work: Mark Allen begins drinking wheat-grass juice.

1984
We jog, therefore...we die? Jim Fixx, 52, succumbs to a heart attack while running in Vermont.

OK, it doesn't work: Allen stops drinking wheat-grass juice.

But this does: Allen slows down most of his training to stay within his aerobic range.

1985
To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Two: Go-go Hollywood executives popularize the "power breakfast"-typically fruit, bran muffins, and dry toast.

Americans spend $2.5 billion on athletic shoes.

1986
We jog, therefore...we don't die? Several studies indicate that exercise can slow and even reverse the effects of aging. New York Marathon exceeds 20,000 entrants for first time.

1987
We jog less, therefore...we're fit? A new approach to training gains legitimacy when, in a study at Indiana's Ball State University, runners who cut their mileage by 70 percent three weeks earlier run just as fast in a 10k as they did before.

1988
New catch-phrase: "cross-training."

See, it works: Oprah Winfrey's declaration that she has lost 67 pounds in four months prompts more than 200,000 calls to Sandoz Nutrition, manufacturer of the Optifast protein drink.

1989
We don't jog, therefore... we're fit? The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, widely regarded as the nation's leading center for cutting-edge fitness studies, concludes that people do not have to be aerobically active to stay healthy.

To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Three: After seven vegetarian years, Mark Allen begins eating red meat, wins every triathlon he enters for next two years, including first Ironman victory.

1990
Well, it kinda worked: Oprah Winfrey regains 17 of her lost pounds.

1991
We know this one works: Suzanne Somers begins hawking Thighmaster mail-order exercise device on TV commercials. Somers tells People: "All the baby boomers' inner thighs are starting to go."

A red-meat-eating, non-strength-training Mark Allen wins Hawaii Ironman for third straight year.

1992
It works, and it's high concept: New York Times film critic Janet Maslin reviews Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body workout video: "Although all Cindy seemingly does...is to work out and drink water, she manages to infuse the action with powerful emotions.... When she remarks that 'it's really satisfying for me to learn, like, which exercises work which muscles,' the viewer can be sure she means something more."

Mark Allen wins fourth consecutive Ironman in record 8:09:09.

1993
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't: Mark Allen adds low-impact plyometrics to his training regimen, then stops. "I think it was probably good," he says, "but I can only do so much."

Citing low ratings, ABC drops the New York Marathon.

Red-meat-eating, weight-lifting Mark Allen wins fifth-straight Ironman in record 8:07:46.

1994
We really hope this doesn't work: The DaVinci Body Series, a nude exercise video for the "renaissance man of the 90's," is released.

1995
To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Four: Experts begin to suggest that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet may contribute to obesity.

We sprint, therefore...? A study of 17,300 Harvard graduates over a span of more than 20 years indicates that only vigorous exercise, and not nonvigorous activity, reduced the risk of dying during the study period.

After skipping the race a year earlier to try marathoning, Mark Allen wins his sixth Ironman.

1996
To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Five: A spate of best-selling books-Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Healthy for Life, Protein Power, The Zone-frown on carbohydrates, touching off a full-blown war of words that continues to rage.

Mark Allen retires from racing, begins drinking green tea; so far, thinks he'll stick with both.

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