This month’s edition marks the final segment of our three-part series about athletics at Magnificat. The first segment focused on the foundations of our physical education and intramural programs and the specific contributions of Sister Claire Young (formerly Sister Mary Pius) in shaping our athletic program. Last month, in Part II, we explored the transition from intramural to interscholastic sports in the wake of Title IX. This month we close out the series with a peek at recreational fitness trends from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The sports pages of our school newspaper reveal that beyond the world of intramural and interscholastic sports, Magnificat’s young women were keyed into the evolving world of recreational fitness. Our students were unaware at the time that Magnificat’s first decades were coinciding with shifting sands in American ideas about exercise and its role in health and wellness beyond dieting. While today we embrace exercise as a necessary measure to preserve health, concrete links between disease prevention and exercise were just emerging in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
Exercise as a Vehicle for Weight Management in the 1960s
The article also says that exercise helps to “relieve tension and fatigue, and to improve posture, balance, strength, and endurance.” While Magnificat students in 1960 recognized exercise as weight management tool with a general “feel good” benefit, absent from this article is an understanding of exercise as a tool for disease prevention. Their perceptions of exercise mirrored those in American culture at large.
From the 1930s to 1960s, “slenderizing” businesses captured the attention of American women. The prevailing ideology was that vibrations, focused on specific parts of the body, would eliminate fat and reshape the body (these theories have since been disproved). “Reducing” was the popular term for dieting and diet-related products; hence “reducing cookies” were diet, or low-calorie, cookies. In 1960, Slenderella was a relatively new weight loss salon system founded by Larry Mack in Stamford, Connecticut. Slenderella salons promised to help women transform their bodies with an appetite suppressing vitamin and mineral mint and time spent on a table that would strategically vibrate their fat away.
Jogging from 1949 to 1968: The long path of the “first mass physical fitness movement”
Fast forward almost twenty years to “Proper Fit Key for Comfortable Jogging” in the May 26, 1978 Magnificat offered advice to students who might be “thinking about getting in shape.” Notably, the article doesn’t define what it means to be “in shape,” and equally notable, the definition of what constitutes “in shape” has changed over time.
The article recommended jogging as an easy physical fitness activity for anyone to practice. A jogger needed only proper shoes, nylon shorts, and t-shirt to undertake the activity. Although proper form was key (“knees slightly bent, fingers lightly clenched with palms slightly up, and wrists firm”), the activity could take place anywhere. Little did these Magnificat students know, jogging was one of the first fitness activities marketed as a disease “preventer,” and it also spawned the modern fitness industry.
According to Conor Hefferan, the jogging movement that began in Oregon in the 1960s launched “a mass physical fitness movement” in the United States. On a trip to New Zealand in 1963, William Bowerman, a Physical Education Professor and track and field coach at the University of Oregon, was introduced to jogging by Arthur Lydiard who, with a businessman named Colin Kay, had formed a joggers’ club as a physical fitness opportunity for local men. Inspired by the idea, Bowerman created a pamphlet when he returned to the University of Oregon that espoused the benefits of exercise for health and introduced the idea of jogging to local Oregonians. Later in the 1960s, Bowerman joined forces with cardiologist Waldo Harris to write a book, Jogging, which sold over a million copies in the first edition. Bill Bowerman, also a co-founder of Nike, Inc., died in 1999 at the age of 88.
Both Lydiard and Bowerman’s ideas about the health value of physical fitness emerged from a growing body of evidence in the medical community that the sedentary nature of life in the modern, industrialized West had a negative impact on human health. Years earlier, in 1949, Scottish epidemiologist Jerry Morris, the “man who invented exercise,” conducted a now famous study that compared bus drivers and conductors’ overall health against the backdrop of their occupational activity level. He found that conductors who were much more active on the job than bus drivers had better long-term health. Morris was one of the first doctors to correlate increased physical activity with better health outcomes. He himself took up jogging for wellness long before the activity enjoyed mass popularity. Morris died in 2009 at the age of 99.
Aerobics from 1968 to the 1980s and beyond: The Noun and the Dance
The December 1985 Magnificat article “Winter is shaping up!” again encouraged students to find an enjoyable exercise program, and aerobics was first on the list of suggestions. According to the article, “aerobics,” very popular in the mid-80s, exercised the heart while also toning and firming up muscles.
The idea that the heart was a muscle that could, and should, be exercised was an emerging idea in the mid-twentieth century. More specifically, the concept of “aerobics” was created by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper and first promulgated his 1968 book, Aerobics. Before 1968, the term aerobic was used as a life science adjective that meant “relating to oxygen.” Dr. Cooper transformed the adjective into a noun referring to types of activity that promoted physical health by temporarily increasing the heart and respiratory rates. Cooper’s book proclaimed that “vigorous activity has more and more proved worthwhile both as preventive medicine and as a cure.” His book included activities that were associated with points, and he encouraged followers of his exercise regime to accumulate 30 points daily for maximum health benefits. In addition to promoting exercise in general as a vehicle for wellness, Cooper’s book also lent support to the growing popularity of jogging (that had begun in Oregon with Bill Bowerman). Today, at age 88, Dr. Cooper continues to be a presence in his company, Cooper Aerobics Health and Wellness, and over the course of his lifetime, he has logged over 38,000 miles running.
But the “aerobics” that Magnificat students and others around the country engaged in, though inspired by Cooper’s work, was actually a dance-style exercise program created in 1969 by Jacki Sorensen. A former professional dancer, Sorensen had read Cooper’s book, Aerobics. She realized that dance could be a vehicle for aerobic exercise and choreographed simple work-out routines to music. Although her first class had only six students, aerobic dancing was born. Today, Sorensen serves as the President of her company, Jacki, Inc., which is headquartered in Athens, Ohio and continues her mission of helping people stay healthy and fit through aerobic dance and other classes.
The aerobic dance craze started by Sorenson was only the beginning. Judi Sheppard Missett (who created Jazzercise in 1969), Jane Fonda (whose 1982 storied “Work-Out” video sold 17 million copies), and many others have put their own unique stamp on the physical fitness world since the late 1960s.
Bill Bowerman, Kenneth Cooper, and Jacki Sorenson were probably not familiar names to Magnificat students in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. And yet, in the sports pages of the Magnificat, we see the indelible footprint of their ideas. The articles highlighted above specifically reflect students’ interests in weight management, jogging, and aerobics, and in peeling back the historical layers, we see how these students were connected to larger physical fitness trends of their time. And in these glimpses of the past, we see how physical fitness history “shapes” our understanding today.
So our series comes to an end. We have explored three distinct components of Magnificat athletics: the foundational years, the initial impacts of Title IX, and recreational fitness in the 1960s to 1980s. And yet, we have only scratched the surface of athletic pursuits and interests at Magnificat. Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will revisit our athletic history and explore new realms.
______. “Lifetime Achievement Award for the Originator of Aerobic Dancing.” President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, May 1, 2012. Video accessed online March 21, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_sHft1x8GM.
______. “Proper Fit Key for Comfortable Jogging.” Magnificat Vol 19, No 5. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, May 26, 1978.
Oakley, Ann. “Appreciation: Jerry [Jeremiah Noah] Morris, 1910-2009.” International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 39, Issue 1. February 201, pages 274-296. Accessed online March 20, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyp390.
Zuscik, Peggy. “Winter is shaping up.” Magnificat Vol 27 No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, December 20, 1985.
We thank Suzanne Buddie Forsgren (Class of 1967), Marie T. Campagna Klich (Class of 1970), and Lynne McIntyre (Class of 1960) for their recent donations to the Magnificat Archives. Your generosity helps preserve our history, and we are very grateful.
Magnificat High School, a girls' Catholic college-preparatory high school, founded and sponsored by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, educates young women holistically to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.