Fit Nation

The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession

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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 01 Nov 2022

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How is it that Americans are more obsessed with exercise than ever, and yet also unhealthier? Fit Nation explains how we got here and imagines how we might create a more inclusive, stronger future.

If a shared American creed still exists, it’s a belief that exercise is integral to a life well lived. A century ago, working out was the activity of a strange subculture, but today, it’s almost impossible to avoid exhortations to exercise: Walk 5K to cure cancer! Awaken your inner sex kitten at pole-dancing class! Sweat like (or even with) a celebrity in spin class! Exercise is everywhere.

Yet the United States is hardly a “fit nation.” Only 20 percent of Americans work out consistently, over half of gym members don’t even use the facilities they pay for, and fewer than 30 percent of high school students get an hour of exercise a day. So how did fitness become both inescapable and inaccessible?

Spanning more than a century of American history, Fit Nation answers these questions and more through original interviews, archival research, and a rich cultural narrative. As a leading political and intellectual historian and a certified fitness instructor, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is uniquely qualified to confront the complex and far-reaching implications of how our contemporary exercise culture took shape. She explores the work of working out not just as consumers have experienced it, but as it was created by performers, physical educators, trainers, instructors, and many others.

For Petrzela, fitness is a social justice issue. She argues that the fight for a more equitable exercise culture will be won only by revolutionizing fitness culture at its core, making it truly inclusive for all bodies in a way it has never been. Examining venues from the stage of the World’s Fair and Muscle Beach to fat farms, feminist health clinics, radical and evangelical college campuses, yoga retreats, gleaming health clubs, school gymnasiums, and many more, Fit Nation is a revealing history that shows fitness to be not just a matter of physical health but of what it means to be an American.
How is it that Americans are more obsessed with exercise than ever, and yet also unhealthier? Fit Nation explains how we got here and imagines how we might create a more inclusive, stronger future.


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ISBN 9780226651101
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Featured Reviews

professor and fitness instructor Natalia Petrzela combines her vocations in her second book, Fit Nation, which fuses extensive primary research and thorough engagement with secondary literature to offer the first complete history of American fitness culture. book engages so deeply with American culture and politics that it could effectively serve as a textbook for twentieth-century history of the U.S. also very long: four hundred pages. perhaps what’s most outstanding about Fit Nation is that during a key moment for history and ‘the public,’ while most scholars yearn to translate academic history for ‘the public,’ Petrzela actually applies a rigorous academic lens to everyday people and daily life. doing so, she bridges distance between historians and the ‘public’ better than most can imagine.

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Meticulously researched by an historian who is herself a fitness instructor, this book chronicles the past and present state of the American fitness industry and culture, with an emphasis on its impact on women over the generations.

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I was given an eBook from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

first came across Natalie through a podcast she did about the Chippendales, and then I followed her on Instagram and signed up for her mailing list, so i was thrilled to receive an Advanced reader Copy of this book, and it did not disappoint. Petrezela approaches her topic with a gender, class and privilege at the forefront of her research. This book is accessible, sympathetic and most of all - interesting.

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This was fantastic! It covers similar ground to Danielle Friedman's Let's Get Physical, but offers a more in-depth look at the why behind many of the American fitness trends. Petrzela connects the dots between the fitness zeitgeist and how capitalism and consumerism responded and helped shape it. I loved this book start to finish.

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