One element in any program for physical fitness on which all experts agree is that it calls for exercise of some kind. And the idea of exercise, as such, does not always evoke universal enthusiasm in this country. With some it has even become the style to repeat the comment by Robert Hutchins that whenever he felt the need for exercise he lay down until it passed.
But the national problem of physical fitness—as labor saving devices increasingly discourage old-fashioned but reliable exercises like walking, sweeping and starting outboard motors—is not yet a passing one. President Eisenhower was among the first to recognize its seriousness last year when he held a White House luncheon to discuss the alarming findings of Dr. Hans Kraus and Miss Ruth (Bonnie) Prudden on the fitness of our youth. In The Report That Shocked the President, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Aug. 15, 1955) reported the President's concern when he recalled that more than 50% of the men examined for service during the last war were physically unfit to serve. The report shocked SI's readers as well, as mail still coming in a year later attests.
Out of the White House luncheon came the President's Conference on the Fitness of American Youth, held last month in Annapolis (SI, July 2). As a result of its recommendations, the President has promised to create a Council on Youth Fitness at Cabinet level and a Citizens Advisory Committee. Their task, in part, will be to explore the facts of physical fitness and determine what to do about them on a national scale. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will, of course, follow their activities closely.
Meanwhile, in this issue Dorothy Stull explores the activities at a unique obstacle course and gymnasium developed by Miss Prudden, co-author of the original report. Writer Stull, as part of her assignment, challenged the obstacle course as she might a torture chamber. But after conquering its nets, ropes and ledges (see diagram, page 63), she was surprised to find herself in exhilarated agreement with the Westchester housewives who view it with devout enthusiasm.
July 15, 1956
"It may not solve the national problem," she said, "but it made me forget mine. I never felt better." And that certainly is one thing physical fitness is all about.