Do I dare write a column celebrating 40 years of writing this column? “Why not?” I answer, striking the power pose. I’ve put in my 10,000-plus-plus hours. I’ve become an expert in healthy living, not to mention time spent on healthy dying, a booming industry just now coming about. I’ve done other things in my professional life – from winning Emmys for a sports and adventure series to co-hosting a dueling-TV-critics show a la Siskel and Ebert – but no work I’ve done has the track record of this old thing, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in America.s.
Longevity counts. Happy anniversary to me. When I created Energy Express, my full-time job was writing features and reviewing TV, film and theater for the Chicago Tribune. All the medical columns in newspapers were about headache cures and hemorrhoids. Fitness was just beginning to creep into the consciousness of the nation, right up there with CB radio and needlepoint. It was 1976. Jane Fonda was going for the burn, jumping jacks were in style, only tough guys belonged to gyms, and yoga and tofu were considered interchangeable terms.
Things have changed – so much so, I decided to interview my own most personal trainer for the past many decades. That would be me.
Q: What’s the single biggest change you’ve seen in fitness in the last 40 years?
A: That’s impossible. Ask me something else.
A: OK, then. Fitness isn’t just about exercise anymore. It’s evolved into something much grander and more important. These days, fitness is all about living a healthier, happier, more balanced, more loving life, taking into account the powerful mind-body connection, which was not taken seriously in 1976.
Forty years ago (yes, I was just learning to tie my shoes), “healthy lifestyle” wasn’t even an expression. Now it’s a multibillion-dollar industry that includes fitness trackers, glow-in-the-dark athletic shoes and the Lake Nona project, an entirely new theme park city in – you’ll never guess – Orlando, created around the concept of “wellness.” Rumor has it that Minnie and Donald are shopping for a condo.
Over the years, I’ve seen wellness and fitness fuse into one, emphasizing physical exercise, mental clarity, smart eating, strength training, relaxation, stress reduction, adventure travel, yoga and tofu and almost everything sold at Whole Foods. Organic is everywhere. As for jumping jacks, forget it. It turns out they can really screw up your back.
Q: Should everyone exercise?
A: No! Only women and men and girls and boys who want to feel better, live longer, have more energy and fewer reasons to complain. Everyday physical activity – in modest amounts, enough to get the heart pumping and the joy juices flowing – helps you navigate the path to a healthier, happier, longer and more joyful life. Period, the end.
Q: So why did they nearly stop all P.E. classes in schools all across the country?
A: Crazy child abusers! This is one of the most sickening developments in the last 40 years. What we have done to our children! It’s no wonder that school kids are fatter, more troubled and more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and attention problems. We took away their gym time, force-fed them all sorts of toxic food and drinks, and now we sit back and watch the drug companies sell kids sleeping pills, digestive aids and antidepressants in record numbers. I pray it doesn’t take another 40 years to untangle the mess.
Q: Why do sound angry?
A: Let’s just say deeply disappointed. Because anger is one of those negative emotions that take us down the lesser path of pimples or low back pain – depending on your age.
Q: What are the three best fitness trends of the past 40 years?
A. Just three? That’s torture. There is so much to celebrate. One, the profound connection between body and mind is mainstream now. Two, millions of people are open to healing therapies that include the best of the East and the West. Three, girls and women have every opportunity to soar – in sports, in life, in spite of the patriarchy that has normalized gender bias. But I digress.
Q: No problem. Shall we continue next month?
A: Absolutely. I’m on a roll.
MARILYNN PRESTON is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.