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Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession

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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.

Author: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela
Binding Type: Hardcover
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Published: 02/07/2023
Pages: 424
Weight: 1.63lbs
Size: 9.10h x 6.10w x 1.30d
ISBN: 9780226651101


Review Citation(s):
Library Journal 10/01/2022 pg. 72
Publishers Weekly 10/17/2022
Booklist 12/01/2022 pg. 97
Choice 08/01/2023

About the Author
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture and associate professor of history at the New School. A certified fitness instructor, she has worked out at home and in gyms for nearly three decades. She is the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, and her work has appeared in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and CNN. She is coproducer and host of the acclaimed podcast Welcome to Your Fantasy and cohost of the Past Present podcast. She lives in New York City