Fitness in ’63

January 18, 2011 at 5:22 AM | Posted in Fitness, Growing up | 7 Comments
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While re-arranging my bookshelves I came across the U.S. Official Physical Fitness Program which was published in 1963. You can see to the left the then famous cover with the portrait of President Kennedy.

The paperback book is just 64 pages and is, as people used to say then, chock-full of exercises and advice. Surely today, the same content would fill 200 pages. It cost 50 cents.


The book opens with a Presidential Message and then moves to discuss what is to us basic  but would have been news back then. I can with confidence say that by the time I was 13 years old, in 1963, I had never seen an adult exercise, outside of professional sports. It is hard to exercise while smoking Luckys.

Early on there are some touching moments: “A reassuring word about muscles. As you make use of the program in the following pages, you need have no fear of becoming heavily, unattractively muscled.” This, addressed to the ladies.

Both the women’s and men’s program have 5 levels detailed with pictures, instructions and suggested repetitions. You would recognize all the exercises and the program would work well today. It is as solid as was Bud Wilkinson, the famous football coach of Oklahoma, who directed the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and prepared the book.

There is even a section on Isometrics which was new and all the rage back then. My therapy for my rotator cuff injury utilizes a form of isometrics, although now clothed as “Muscle Activation Techniques.”

Back then, when the President said to start exercising, many of us did. When he said we would go to the moon, men started climbing. The U.S. was just climbing out of the afraid-of-our-shadow, bomb shelter era then. President Kennedy had that kind of effect on us.


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  1. Not sure if it’s rose-tinted memory but my impression is that one difference between Kennedy and Obama is that JFK directly challenged people to improve and to contribute to society in a way that Obama doesn’t. Fine rhetoric from both but more specific programmes from Kennedy. (Possibly a poor time to use examples like the Peace Corps given your post yesterday, but you see my point).

  2. I was going to post exactly what Graham did. I remember going out to the schoolyard with the other kids to run the 50 yard dash, do pushups, etc. Now, I’m sure there would be parent’s groups decrying it as some sort of veiled plot to control the minds and bodies of our children. And, of course, in a sense that’s exactly what it was. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing though.

    • Yes, I agree with both of you. In Obama’s defense, think of the Republican Party of 1960 and that of today.

      In addition, Obama did not have enough experience coming in. Kennedy didn’t have a lot and made big mistakes but he struck the right tone from the start. Obama’s Inaugural speech was bad — and if not bad, not great. He poked at Bush and that was deplorable — I turned away from the tv set.

      And I voted for and like Obama and I hope and am pretty sure that he’ll be relected! Although I would not swear a blood oath on that!

  3. That sounds like a great book. I wonder if anyone’s scanned the whole thing for posterity. I’d love to take a look at it.

  4. I am trying to find a copy of JFK’s Physical Fitness guide, which I too remember as a child. Do you know where I can get a copy?

    • I bet you can get one on e-bay. Good-luck!

  5. Hello tommackey,

    Is there any chance that you could write a blog about the booklet and include pictures from the booklet? My husband and I are getting in shape and this booklet and its guidance would help us greatly.

    Kind regards


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