Unless you are an incorrigible couch potato, Bonnie Prudden has
improved the state of your body. The spunky 5'2"
great-grandmother was a fitness guru long before getting fit
became fashionable, and her work has shaped the way Americans
think about exercise. She taught her first conditioning class
more than 50 years ago and at age 85 is still keeping up a
breakneck schedule of lectures, interviews and fitness
In 1946 Prudden was living in Harrison, N.Y., and was appalled
at the lax physical education in the elementary school of one of
her two daughters. Bonnie, an accomplished dancer, rock climber
and skier, started after-school exercise classes for Joan and
Suzy and their friends. Over the years Prudden's fitness
routines have been embraced by every level of society--swimming
lessons for babies, a dry-land ski school, and programs for
women in prison--and practiced in nearly every conceivable
place. She devised a workout regimen for the shower, "under
cover" exercises for the bedroom and even "toilet training" for
those who spend a lot of time on the throne.
The first lady of fitness gained national fame in 1955 when she
wrote, with Dr. Hans Kraus, a study stating that American
children were the least fit in the world. "The reasons were
simple: school buses, cars and television," says Prudden.
"Physical education had committed suicide." Her so-called shape
of the union address, as the study came to be called, prompted
Dwight Eisenhower to form what is known today as the President's
Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. A series of articles she
wrote for SI in '57, aimed at teaching readers how to get fit,
led to regular appearances on The Home Show and Today.
Prudden also made an important contribution to alternative
medicine. In the mid-1970s she found that muscle pain can be
relieved if pressure is applied--using fingers, knuckles or an
elbow--to the proper trigger point in a muscle, and then remedial
exercises are performed. This technique, known as myotherapy (myo
means muscle in Greek), has helped people from Leonard Bernstein
to Mark McGwire.
Prudden moved to Tucson in 1992 and is working on three books to
add to her list of 13 published titles. She offers this advice
for the motivationally challenged: "Get into some kind of
exercise that you like and stay with it the rest of your life.
You can't afford ever to quit." Does Prudden practice what she
preaches? Absolutely. "I put on Hooked on Classics or ABBA. Loud.
Then I do polkas, ballet movements and all kinds of exercises for
an hour in my pool. It works very well."