As promised in March’s Fitness Friday post, this month begins my spotlight on pioneering women in the fitness movement. This article is a result of my research and includes excerpts from my draft book No Excuses Fitness.

Why Should We Be Fit?

Until after World War II, most Americans were unconcerned about fitness and exercise. Sure, there were glimpses and hints to sports as interest and media coverage of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games grew in popularity. The 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles inspired local men to play around with gymnastics on the Santa Monica Pier. Famous fitness star, Jack LaLanne, established a gym in Oakland, California soon after, in 1936.

According to Daniel Kunitz, in his 2016 book, Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors, “bodybuilding gained acceptance in the 1970s, a time of popular celebration of working-class characters and tropes,” thanks to pioneers like Joe Weider, Mr. America, 1948. Weider’s protégé Arnold Schwarzenegger transformed bodybuilding into a global trend.

For most of the 20th century—up until what became known as the fitness boom of the 70s—very few people believed health and wellness could be achieved by exercising one’s body strenuously.

Meet the First Lady of Fitness

It wasn’t until the efforts of one woman recovering from a hip injury sustained from skiing, that her experience led to the realization that working out would be more useful for preventing sickness or injury instead of rehabilitation and therapy.

Bonnie Prudden
Bonnie Prudden leading class (Library of Congress photo)

Bonnie Prudden was an American physical fitness pioneer, expert rock climber and mountaineer, and author. Her report to President Eisenhower on the unfitness of American children as compared with their European counterparts led to the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness.” Bonnie Prudden

An active dancer and rock climber, Prudden grew up in the affluent New York suburbs. In 1945, she noticed her own young children weren’t as physically active as she had been as a child.

Prudden organized activities for her children and neighborhood children and noticed many of the kids couldn’t run or showed little stamina. She actively began teaching exercise classes to local children. Exploring this further, Prudden, devised a set of six tests of muscular conditioning, toe-touches, and sit-ups which demonstrated that they failed these simple tasks. Prudden consulted with Dr. Hans Kraus, an orthopedic surgeon, and innovator of modern sports medicine.

Photo by Lukas on

“In December 1953, the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation publishes an article, ‘Muscular Fitness and Health,’ coauthored by Dr. Hans Kraus and Bonnie Prudden that sounded an alarm about the poor state of youth fitness in America.” History of the President’s Council

In 1955, Prudden and Dr. Kraus presented the results of seven years of research to President Eisenhower. According to Kraus-Prudden Report, 57.9% of American children had failed one or more of the six minimal fitness competencies of the Kraus-Weber test, as compared to only 8.7 failure rates among European children.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

President's Council Logo, Public Domain

“This report shocked the president (Eisenhower) enough for him to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, which operated from 1956-1960. Under the Kennedy administration, it became the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Kennedy was a firm believer in the pursuit of fitness goals for the entire age span and wished to create more emphasis on family activities as well as adult- and elder-oriented fitness programs.”

Prudden’s Accomplishments

“You can’t run back the clock,” Ms. Prudden liked to say. “But you can wind it up again.”

  • Prudden pioneered exercise fashion (dark translucent tights,) eventually sold through Montgomery Ward.
  • “Her dance-based calisthenics classes were done to music, years before the invention of aerobics.” (Kunitz, 2016)
  • Opened the Institute for Physical Fitness in White Plains, NY. This was owned and run by a woman when gyms didn’t allow women members.
  • Prudden collaborated with YMCAs on family fitness, which eventually became “the primary venue for introducing the wider public to fitness activities.”
  • She hosted her own TV show, The Bonnie Prudden Show, in 1963, the first to highlight regular exercise on national television.
  • Beginning in 1957, she was featured in a series of columns in Sports Illustrated Magazine on How to Keep Fit.
  • She authored several books, including two best-sellers: How to Keep Slender and Fit After Thirty (1961) and Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way (1980). (Wikipedia/Bonnie Prudden)

Bonnie Prudden passed away at the age of 97 in 2011. Men, women, and children owe her unending debts of gratitude for her groundbreaking visions of health and fitness in mid-century America which in turn sparked the fitness boom a few years later.

And speaking of fitness…

WALK: My Word of the Year (WOTY) Update

I enjoy the physical part of walking, I usually walk for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to an hour, with the dogs. I recently read that “the simple act of walking for health has countless powerful benefits. In fact walking may be the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” according to Harvard Health Publishing.

I continue to be very intentional with my daily walks and strive for at least 10,000 steps a day.

I do a lot of thinking while I walk and enjoy the fresh air, and sometimes I simply listen to an audiobook. In fact, inspired by Donna at Retirement Reflections and co-hosts for the monthly feature What’s On Your Bookshelf, I’m listening to her recommended book, A Walk in the Woods. Perfect for my daily walks in my own woods.

Bryson A Walk in the Woods
Hilarious audiobook

In trying to be creative with my WOTY, I created an acrostic as you can see below.

Having recently been encouraged during the Easter season, I wish to continue the spiritual walks, which I find comes more easily and more intentionally.

See more WOTY posts in the link party and this one from Donna at Retirement Reflections.

I hope you enjoyed this interesting perspective on the early history of American fitness, and may this information inspire you to look closely at your own health and fitness choices. Have a wonderful week and hope to see you for Sunday Stills this weekend.


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39 thoughts on “Bonnie Prudden: First Lady of Fitness

  1. I assume you know about Linda’s walking regime Terri? She walks religiously!
    My secret……….not to own a car, so I get around by bike only. It’s actually a win, win ,win!
    Win for the environment, win for my pocket book and a win for my health!
    A great reminder to all that our health is our greatest wealth!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the quote: “You can’t run back the clock,” Ms. Prudden liked to say. “But you can wind it up again.” So true, Terri. Thanks for sharing this inspirational woman’s story and her wise advice. And I love your WOTY. Speaking of walking… I’m making myself a cup of coffee and off I go. 🙂 Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. What surprised me was how early on the research showed kid’s fitness levels dropping. I always thought that it had happened around the 60’s when TV consumption increased. I grew up rural and we never went for a walk but we walked lots. And now – we’ll walks are my soul refresher. Mt gratitude finder. And my main fitness focus. Bernie

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a great tribute, Terri – and such a vital subject. I’m surprised so many children were becoming unfit back then. I really love your word of the year – an important one for all of us, and you are such a great example. Toni x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. HI Terri thanks for joining us for WOTY and I enjoyed your post very much. The decline in fitness probably coincided with the introduction of modern appliances – no more wringing out the washing, cars meant less walking. Bonnie Prudden was certainly ahead of her time and thank you for introducing her to me as I had not heard of her before. Enjoy your May and I like how you are also thinking outside your WOTY box. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahaha, probably right, Jody! What’s interesting, historically is that “fitness” for women was purely cosmetic, reducing, etc, especially in the 50s and 60s. These women fitness pioneers changed everything beginning with Bonnie–just wait til you read about Jane Fonda and Judi Sheppard Misset (founder of Jazzercise). 🙂


  6. Intentional walks! Yes, to this. I am going to add this to my week. Recently I read a book about grief and the healing nature of “nature” particularly trees. The book has helped me learn about how we are drawn to the view the colours of trees and nature because the eye loves the gentleness of yellow/green. As someone who is visual I found this an extraordinary new insight and in fact, notice the ‘yellow’ tinge within the green all the time. I started a walk last weekend that was deliberately about noticing trees. It was so lovely to engage with them. I loved reading the history here and how you are progressing with WALK…and I am always a fan of an anagram. Denyse

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aww thank you, Denyse! Hard to go wrong with Mother Nature. You are so right about the yellow spectrum of colors found in green–that’s what differentiates it from blue, also a natural, soothing color. You can imagine with my photography habit, how I see everything. GLld you liked the WALK anagram. Not easy for me, and I have to do a few more, LOL! Always a pleasure to hear from you, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi, Terri – This is an awesome post. I learned a great deal. I had never heard of Bonnie Pruden before. We owe her so much.
    ‘Walk’ is such a wonderful WOTY. I may just need to borrow it next year. I’m delighted that you have downloaded Bryson’s book about the AT and our listening to it while you walk. It is such a fun and meaningful book all at one time. I could never read it in public as it makes me burst out in laughter every single time!
    Thank you for the shout-out. I greatly appreciate it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Interesting stuff, Terri. I’d never heard of her before. Walking is probably my default exercise, and not for exercise, but just because I enjoy walking around! I hope you enjoyed ‘A Walk In The Woods.’ Bill Bryson has written several very funny, but also informative books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Graham, it’s amazing some of the items I discovered poking around the internet. I’m listening to A Walk in the Woods now, several LOL moments already! I used to be a jogger/runner but my knees begged to differ so walking became my default as well. No regrets!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for joining us for our WOTY link up Terri, your post was so interesting! I’d never heard of Bonnie before and to think she was the start of the fashion of exercise tights – what would she think if she was around today when they are actually worn for all sorts of purposes, not just for exercising in? Your WOTY is just perfect and your intentional walks sound similar to mine just minus the dogs. All the best for May 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. So true – “You can’t run back the clock, But you can wind it up again.” I love that quote, Terri.

    Walking has given me many benefits, especially being able to clear my mind when I know I’ve spent far too much time in front of a screen. I strive for 10,000 steps a day, too, although I also enjoy taking in the sounds of nature and seeing them when out walking, so no audiobooks for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My clock needs winding every day it seems, Hugh, LOL! Honestly, I don’t listen to audiobooks that much, either since I can listen in the car since most drives to town are a minimum of 10 minutes +. Nature’s sounds are the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I had never heard of her. So interesting and I can see how true that is.And how exciting about working on a book yourself. Whoo hoo!! I’ll have to look into the book you are listening to. We have a great road for walking…I just need to make myself go out and walk it. I know it would make a huge difference. I just always think of all the other things I have to do and so I don’t choose to do it.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. As a fellow walker, I’m right there with you on the benefits of walking, whether for your body or your mind. Walking is my chance to leave the house with my mind a blank and enjoy nature. I am disappointed if people want to chitchat or walk with me while I am the Park. I like my quiet time. It is good for us to get as much quiet time in nature as possible. Your diligence to walking is admirable Terri.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thanks for that fascinating mini biopic on Bonnie Prudden. Your post reminded I used to watch some of her shows back then. God bless, a beautiful rich life she had. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

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