The Original Nordic Track

Jan 5 2013 @ 9:41am

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Just in time for the work-out boom in the new year, Megan Garber remembers Dr. Jonas Gustav Wilhelm Zander, "the Swedish physician and orthopedist and all-around genius who invented the exercise machine":

Though Dr. Zander wasn't alone in realizing the market for machines that would aid in exercise — and though exercise equipment as a more general thing has been around since long before the Greeks and their gymnasia — it was Dr. Zander who popularized the connections between physical exertions and overall well-being. He was the one who looked at a horse and realized it could be replicated for purposes of recreation. He was the one who looked at a bicycle and realized it could be used for more than transportation.

And his inventions signaled a change in how we view exercise – as an elite past time: 

Zander pitched his machines, the writer Carolyn de la Pena notes, as "a preventative against the evils engendered by a sedentary life and the seclusion of the office." And he pitched them as well, implicitly and explicitly, as luxury experiences — experiences that were expensive, and rarified, and therefore available only to society's elites. Mechanized workouts enforced, for the first time, a separation between exercise and labor: They posited physical activity as something to be engaged in not by economic necessity, but by personal choice. 

On a related note, Denise Winterman ranks history's weirdest fad diets. First up, Fletcherism – the promotion of extensive chewing by Horace Fletcher at the turn of the 20th century:

He was fairly prescriptive in how many times you had to chew different foods. Just one shallot needed to be chewed 700 times.  It was hugely popular and had some famous followers, including Henry James and Franz Kafka. It got to a point where people were timed at dinner parties to make sure they were chewing enough, says Foxcroft. "The diet also meant only defecating once every two weeks and it was nearly odourless, described by Fletcher as smelling like 'warm biscuits'," she says.

(Photo: Side-bending device designed by Gustav Zander, via the Tekniska Museet/National Museum of Science and Technology, Stockholm)