From Fads to Facts: A Century of Fitness and Nutrition Advice

We've come a long way in the world of health, fitness and nutrition advice over the past 100 years. It's been an exhilarating journey filled with fads, trends and some valuable lessons.

In this post we'll take a deep dive into the evolution of fitness and nutrition advice, exploring the changing trends each decade of the last century from the 1920s to the 2020s.

So, how has nutrition and fitness advice changed over the years? Grab a protein shake and let's find out.

1920s: The Jazz Age and the Rise of Calisthenics

As the Roaring Twenties ushered in a newfound appreciation for physicality and style, fitness and nutrition began to take centre stage. People turned to calisthenics — a form of exercise that combined rhythmic movements with stretches — to stay fit.

Fuelled by the popularity of dance styles like the Charleston, people were encouraged to keep their bodies agile and flexible.

The 1920s also witnessed the rise of processed foods, which promised convenience but lacked essential nutrients.

1930s: The Great Depression and Functional Fitness

The Depression hit the world hard and fitness routines took a practical turn. People sought out exercises that didn't require expensive equipment or gym memberships.

Simple bodyweight exercises like push ups, sit ups and squats became the go-to workouts.

Additionally, as the availability of fresh produce dwindled due to economic hardship, people turned to canned vegetables and low-cost starchy foods like potatoes to sustain themselves.

1940s: World War II and the Rise of Aerobic Exercise

The '40s were defined by World War II, which led to a major shift in fitness and nutrition advice.

The armed forces emphasised the importance of physical fitness among soldiers. The introduction of calisthenics and aerobic exercises aimed at building endurance became a standard part of military training.

Following the war, this focus on aerobics spilled into the civilian world, with fitness enthusiasts adopting high-energy dance routines to stay in shape.

1950s: The Age of Bodybuilding

Enter the birth of bodybuilding culture. As fitness icons such as Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne graced TV and magazines, the desire for muscular physiques became more widespread.

People began incorporating strength training exercises into their routines, using barbells and dumbbells to build muscle mass.

Meanwhile, nutrition advice leaned towards high protein diets, with red meat and eggs reigning supreme as the go-to sources.

1960s: Fitness in the Swinging Sixties

The 1960s were marked by a shift towards a more holistic approach to fitness. Yoga gained popularity, bringing the concepts of flexibility, mindfulness and meditation into the mainstream.

The introduction of low fat diets aimed to combat heart disease and promote overall health. This dietary trend saw an increase in consumption of fruits, vegetables and lean meats while limiting the intake of saturated fats.

1970s: The Fitness Boom and the Dawn of Aerobics

The '70s witnessed a significant fitness boom and the birth of the aerobics movement. This era brought forth a wave of energy and enthusiasm for staying active.

Aerobic exercises characterised by rhythmic movements and sustained cardiovascular activity gained popularity during this time. People enthusiastically embraced exercises like jogging, swimming and cycling to improve their cardiovascular fitness and burn calories.

The disco era fuelled the desire to dance and have fun while working out, leading to the emergence of dance-based fitness routines like jazzercise and disco aerobics. These workouts not only improved physical fitness but also provided an outlet for self-expression and enjoyment.

The 70s also saw advancements in fitness equipment, with innovations like the treadmill and stationary bike becoming popular additions to home gyms and fitness centres.

On the nutrition front, the 1970s marked a growing awareness of the importance of a balanced diet. The focus shifted from simply calorie counting to considering the quality of food consumed.

People began incorporating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables into their meals, aiming for a well-rounded approach to nutrition. However, it's worth noting that the '70s also saw an increase in the consumption of processed and convenience foods, reflecting the changing lifestyles and demands of the time.

1980s: The Rise of Gym Culture and Jane Fonda

Ah, the '80s, a decade synonymous with leg warmers and high-energy workouts! Jane Fonda burst onto the scene, popularising aerobic exercise with her Jane Fonda Workout videos.

This revolutionised fitness by making it accessible to the masses. Everyone enthusiastically embraced step aerobics, jazzercise and other high impact exercises, focusing on burning calories and achieving cardiovascular fitness.

Gym memberships also skyrocketed as fitness became a lifestyle. Weightlifting and bodybuilding continued to gain popularity, with Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the epitome of strength and muscle.

Gyms became social hubs where people could sculpt their bodies through weight training and cardiovascular exercises.

Nutrition advice centred around low fat diets, with an emphasis on reducing cholesterol and saturated fats. Snack foods labelled as 'fat free' flooded the market, offering a seemingly healthy alternative.

1990s: Aerobics Step Back, Pilates Step In

As the '90s rolled in, the fitness landscape underwent a transformation. Step aerobics took a backseat, making way for the rise of Pilates.

Developed by Joseph Pilates, this exercise method focused on core strength, flexibility and overall body balance. The emphasis shifted from high impact cardio to controlled movements and precise form.

Nutrition advice also evolved, with a growing awareness of the importance of balanced diets and the introduction of dietary guidelines promoting portion control and moderation.

2000s: High Intensity Training and Superfoods

Welcome to the era of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and superfoods. The noughties saw a surge in fitness programs like CrossFit and Insanity, promoting short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest.

These workouts gained popularity due to their effectiveness in burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.

Meanwhile, superfoods like quinoa, kale and chia seeds captured the public's attention, heralded for their nutritional density and health benefits.

2010s: Functional Fitness and Plant Based Diets

In the past decade, fitness trends have revolved around functional training. This approach emphasises movements that mimic real-life activities and focus on building overall strength and mobility.

Workouts like CrossFit, TRX and functional circuit training gained popularity, promoting functional movements such as squatting, lifting, pushing and pulling.

Plant based diets gained traction, driven by concerns about environmental impact, animal welfare and health benefits associated with reduced meat consumption.

2020s: Holistic Wellness and Personalised Nutrition

As we step into the present decade, the approach to fitness and nutrition has become increasingly holistic. The focus is on overall wellbeing, encompassing physical, mental and emotional health.

Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation have gained popularity, promoting stress reduction and mental clarity alongside physical fitness.

Personalised nutrition has taken centre stage, with advancements in technology and DNA testing allowing individuals to tailor their diets to their unique genetic makeup.

The evolution of fitness and nutrition advice over the past century is a testament to our growing understanding of the human body and the importance of holistic health.

From the rhythmic calisthenics of the 1920s to the personalised nutrition of today, we've seen trends come and go, but the underlying message remains constant: taking care of our bodies is essential.

So as we navigate the ever-changing fitness landscape, let's remember to embrace evidence based practices, listen to our bodies and prioritise overall wellbeing on our journey to a healthier and happier life.