views updated May 29 2018


Aerobics is a form of exercise based on cardiovascular activity that became a popular leisure-time activity for many Americans in the final quarter of the twentieth century. Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, an Air Force surgeon, coined the term aerobics in a book of that title published in 1968. Cooper viewed aerobic activity as the cornerstone of physical fitness, and devised a cardiovascular fitness test based on one's ability to run a mile and a half in twelve minutes, a task that was used in military training. Cooper's work was endorsed by the medical community by the early 1970s, and contributed to the popularity of running during that period. By the end of the decade, aerobics had become synonymous with a particular form of cardiovascular exercise that combined traditional calisthenics with popular dance styles in a class-based format geared toward non-athletic people, primarily women. Jackie Sorenson, a former dancer turned fitness expert, takes credit for inventing aerobic dance in 1968 for Armed Forces Television after reading Cooper's book. Judi Sheppard Missett, creator of Jazzercise, another form of aerobic dance combining jazz dance and cardiovascular activity, began teaching her own classes in 1969. By 1972, aerobic dance had its own professional association for instructors, the International Dance Exercise Association (IDEA).

By 1980, aerobics was rapidly becoming a national trend as it moved out of the dance studios and into fast-growing chains of health clubs and gyms. The inclusion of aerobics classes into the regular mixture of workout machines and weights opened up the traditionally male preserve of the gym to female customers and employees alike. In the process, it created a newly heterosexualized atmosphere in health clubs, which would make them popular social spots for singles. Simultaneously, aerobics marketing was moving beyond real-time classes and into media outlets. Aerobic workouts had appeared on records and in instructional books since the late 1970s, but it was the introduction of videotaped aerobic sessions in the early 1980s that brought the fitness craze to a broader market. Actress Jane Fonda pioneered the fitness video market with the release of her first exercise video in 1982, which appeared on the heels of her bestselling Jane Fonda's Workout Book (1981). Fitness instructors and celebrities would follow Fonda's lead into tape sales, which continued to be a strong component of the fitness market in the 1990s. Exercise shows on television experienced a resurgence during the aerobics craze of the 1980s, spawning new-style Jack La Lannes in the guise of Richard Simmons and Charlene Prickett (It Figures) among others.

Even more impressive than the ability of aerobics to move across media outlets was its seemingly unbounded capacity for synergistic marketing. Tie-ins such as clothing, shoes, music, books, magazines, and food products took off during the 1980s. Jane Fonda again demonstrated her leadership in the field, moving from books and videos into records and audiotapes, clothing, and even her own line of exercise studios. Spandex-based fitness clothing became enormously popular as they moved beyond traditional leotards into increasingly outrageous combinations. Recognizing the potentially lucrative female aerobics market, leading sports-footwear manufacturers began marketing shoes specifically designed for aerobic activity. Reebok was the first to score big in the aerobic footwear market with a line of high-top shoes in fashion colors, though its market dominance would be challenged by Nike and other competitors. By the 1990s, Reebok attempted to corner the aerobics market through tie-ins to fitness videos and by exploiting new trends in aerobics like the step and the slide. Fitness clothing designer Gilda Marx's Flexitard line introduced the exercise thong as an updated version of the leotard, which relaxed the taboos on such sexualized garb for the mainstream of physically-fit women. The aerobics craze among women spawned a new genre of women's mass-market fitness magazines, led by Self, a Condé-Nast title first published in 1982, which seamlessly blended articles on women's health and fitness with promotional advertisements for a wide variety of products.

During the 1980s, aerobics transcended the world of physical fitness activities to become a staple of popular culture. The aerobics craze helped facilitate the resurgent popularity of dance music in the 1980s following the backlash against disco music. A notable example was Olivia Newton-John's 1981 song "Let's Get Physical," which became a top-ten hit. Aerobics made it to the movies as well, as in the John Travolta-Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Perfect (1982), a drama that purported to investigate the sordid world of physical fitness clubs and their aerobics instructors, and was also featured on television shows from Dynasty to The Simpsons.

Despite the enormous popularity of the exercise form among women, aerobics was often harshly criticized by sports experts and medical doctors who faulted instructors for unsafe moves and insufficient cardiovascular workouts, and the entire aerobics marketing industry for placing too much emphasis on celebrity and attractiveness. While these criticisms were certainly valid, they were often thinly veiled forms of ridicule directed against women's attempts to empower their bodies through an extraordinarily feminized form of physical exertion.

By the end of the 1980s, aerobics had become an international phenomenon attracting dedicated practitioners from Peru to the Soviet Union. Moreover, aerobics began attracting increasing numbers of male participants and instructors. Along with its growing international and inter-gender appeal, aerobics itself was becoming increasingly professionalized. IDEA, AFAA (the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), and other fitness organizations developed rigorous instructor certification programs to insure better and safer instruction. The classes became more intense and hierarchical, spawning a hypercompetitive aerobics culture in which exercisers jockeyed for the best positions by the instructor; to execute the moves with the most precision; to wear the most stylish workout clothes; and to show off their well-toned bodies. This competitive aerobics culture even gave birth to professional aerobics competitions, such as the National Aerobics Championship, first held in 1984, and the World Aerobics Championship, first held in 1990. A movement to declare aerobics an Olympic sport has gained increasing popularity.

Beyond professionalization came a diversification of the field in the 1990s. Specialized aerobics classes danced to different beats, from low-impact to hip-hop to salsa. Simultaneously, aerobics instructors began to move beyond dance to explore different exercise regimens, such as circuit training, plyometrics, step aerobics, water aerobics, boxing, "sliding" (in which the participants mimic the moves of speed skaters on a frictionless surface), and "spinning" (in which the participants ride stationary bikes). Even IDEA recognized the changing fitness climate, adding "The Association of Fitness Professionals" to its name in order to extend its organizational reach. As the 1990s progressed, aerobics, as both a dance-based form of exercise and as a term used by fitness experts, increasingly fell out of favor. Nike ceased to use it in their advertising and promotions, preferring the terms "total body conditioning" and "group-based exercise" instead. By the mid-1990s, fitness professionals were reporting declining attendance in aerobics classes due to increasing levels of boredom among physically fit women. Women in the 1990s engage in diverse forms of exercise to stay in shape, from sports, to intensive physical conditioning through weightlifting and running, to less stressful forms of exercise exhibited by the resurgence of interest in yoga and tai chi.

—Stephanie Dyer

Further Reading:

"America's Fitness Binge." U.S. News & World Report. May 3, 1982.

Cooper, Kenneth H. Aerobics. New York, Bantam Books, 1968.

Eller, Daryn. "Is Aerobics Dead?" Women's Sports and Fitness. January/February 1996, 19.

Green, Harvey. Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport, and American Society. New York, Pantheon Books, 1986.

McCallum, Jack, and Armen Keteyian. "Everybody's Doin' It."Sports Illustrated. December 3, 1984.

Reed, J. D. "America Shapes Up." Time. November 2, 1981.


views updated May 29 2018


Aerobics is a term that was coined in the late 1960s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, then a physician at the San Antonio Air Force Hospital, to identify a series of cardiovascular exercises he had developed to combat coronary artery disease.

The exercises were designed to lessen the buildup of a form of cholesterol on the walls of the coronary arteries, which are the arteries that are the conduit of blood to the heart muscle. The cholesterol buildup (plaque deposition) reduces the internal diameter of the arteries, which restricts the flow of oxygen-laden blood to the heart. Plaque formation can also stress the heart by making the pumping of blood to other areas of the body more difficult. The consequences can include chest pain (angina), high blood pressure, and/or a heart attack.

Aerobics involves oxygen; aerobics literally means "with oxygen." In contrast, anaerobic means "without oxygen." Oxygen is a vital part of the energy-generating process for muscles. In concert with fats and glucose, oxygen is used to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels most cellular activity. As oxygen, fats, or glucose are depleted, muscles can acquire energy from anaerobic processes. However, the generation of lactic acid as a byproduct of anaerobic pathways more rapidly fatigues muscles. Establishing a higher level of aerobic fitness permits more strenuous and prolonged exercise before the aerobic threshold is reached.

Following the publication in 1968 of Aerobics, Cooper's book about the exercise system, aerobics quickly became a popular form of exercise. Ten years later, the estimated number of Americans who regularly did aerobics was six million. By 1987, the estimated number had reached 22 million.

In devising aerobics, Cooper viewed the cardiovascular benefits of aerobics as being central to overall physical fitness. The initial military version of aerobics concentrated on endurance, specifically, completing a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) run in 12 minutes. At about the same time, the sport of running was growing in popularity; aerobics helped boost the sport's appeal.

Following his military service, Cooper founded The Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, where he adapted the military-fitness focus of aerobics to fit the general population. His approach has proven to be spectacularly successful. Now called The Cooper Fitness Center and The Cooper Institute, the 30-acre facility has burgeoned into a health- and lifestyle-improvement complex staffed by hundreds of exercise physiologists, physical therapists, and dieticians. Additionally, aerobics research is carried out at another facility in Denver, Colorado.

During the 1970s, aerobics evolved from its running base to encompass cardiovascular activity, calisthenics, and dance. Aerobics became synonymous with a music-based group workout involving choreographed dance moves or repetitious motion. Celebrities such as Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda popularized different versions of aerobic workouts in the 1980s, from milder versions that beginners or less physically able people could handle to intense sessions that challenged even elite athletes. Other seminal personalities include Judi Sheppard Missett, who devised a fusion of aerobics and dance called Jazzercise, and Billy Blanks, who in the 1990s popularized Tae-Bo, an aerobic workout that incorporates martial arts movements. Aerobic workouts remain a staple of fitness club classes in 2006.

Aerobic activities are all designed to increase the oxygen that is available to muscles by increasing the physical capacity of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The number of red blood cells—which transport oxygen throughout the body—also increases. These aerobic benefits are produced by a regular exercise regimen involving activities that are prolonged (a typical aerobic workout lasts about 60 minutes), use large muscle groups such as the arms and legs, and are rhythmic.

The general consensus among physicians and exercise physiologists, including aerobics founder Cooper, is that aerobic exercise should be the main component of a fitness program, but that it should be complemented by strength training. The latter becomes more important with age, as the loss of muscle and bone mass becomes more of a concern.

In addition to studio-based aerobics, many traditional athletic activities combine the cardiovascular and muscular activities necessary to strengthen the heart. These include running, walking, swimming, cross-country skiing, bike riding, basketball, and roll-erblading. Exercise machines that mimic stair climbing and bicycle riding also offer aerobic workouts.

One of the main benefits of aerobics is the elevation of the basal metabolic rate, which is the rate at which energy, measured in calories, is used up (burned) to maintain the normal function of the body. This elevation occurs as the body adjusts to the increased physical demands being imposed. The visible result for the majority of people is the loss of weight.

Aerobics is vitally important for competitive athletes, as many athletic endeavors require cardiovascular fitness.

see also Pilates.


views updated Jun 27 2018


The word "aerobic" means "using oxygen." Aerobic exercises are those designed to increase the oxygen content in the blood and pump this oxygen-enriched blood to the muscles, increasing overall health. Aerobic exercise involves performing an active movement, such as jogging (see entry under 1970s— Sports and Games in volume 4), biking, or swimming, for an extended period of time. This sustained movement allows the heartbeat to increase and remain at a high level.

When the benefits of prolonged energetic physical activity were first publicized in 1968, only about one hundred thousand Americans jogged for exercise. By 1999, over thirty-four million American were running regularly. Millions more rode stationary bikes or attended classes for aerobics, aerobic dance, jazz (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1) aerobics, aqua aerobics, step aerobics, and more.

In 1968, Kenneth H. Cooper (1931–), an Air Force surgeon from Dallas, Texas, published a revolutionary new exercise book based on his research with fifty thousand men and women in the Air Force. Cooper designed a program to make the exercise routines used by the military available to everyone, and his ideas caught on quickly. By the 1970s, dance instructors had added various kinds of music to vigorous exercise, creating aerobic dancing (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1), jazzercise, and soul aerobics. These dance-and-exercise combinations were especially popular with women, who flocked to classes that promised to keep them healthy as well as to help them lose weight.

The 1980s, with its focus on personal improvement, saw an increased popularity of private gyms. Many gyms began to offer aerobics classes. Exercise "gurus" like Richard Simmons (1948–) and Jane Fonda (1937–) released videos that taught viewers how to exercise aerobically in their own homes. Movies like Flashdance (1983) and Perfect (1982) glamorized aerobic exercise. Manufacturers like Reebok and Janzen, who had once made specialty shoes and clothing for sports and dance, now made "aerobic" wear for the everyday exerciser. Aerobics had become a multimillion-dollar business.

The 1990s saw the development of less strenuous forms of aerobics like aqua aerobics, done in swimming pools, which were intended to reduce the chances of injury. The 1990s also brought professionalism to aerobics. Organizations like the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America developed certification programs for instructors, and aerobics athletes competed in national and international championships.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Cooper, Kenneth H. The Aerobics Way: New Data on the Worlds Most Popular Exercise Program. Dallas: M. Evans & Company, 1977.

McNamara, Jo Ann, and Sharon Pendleton. The ABCs of Aerobics. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1990.

Savage, Jeff. Aerobics. Parsippany, NJ: Crestwood House, 1995.


views updated May 29 2018


AEROBICS, meaning "with oxygen," refers to physical exercise to improve cardiorespiratory endurance. Aerobic movement is rhythmic and repetitive, engaging the large muscle groups in the arms and legs for at least twenty minutes at each session. The ensuing demand for a continuous supply of oxygen creates the aerobic training effect, physiological changes that enhance the ability of the lungs, heart, and blood vessels to transport oxygen throughout the body. The most beneficial aerobic exercises include cross-country skiing, swimming, running, cycling, walking, and aerobic dance. Activities that rely on brief or discontinuous bursts of energy, such as weight lifting, are anaerobic ("without oxygen").

An early proponent of aerobics was Kenneth H. Cooper, a medical doctor whose 1968 book Aerobics introduced the first exercise program for cardiorespiratory improvement. Cooper also founded the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certifies aerobics instructors and sets equipment and training standards.

Aerobic movement as a formal exercise has been popular since the late 1960s. The correlation between optimum physical activity and lowered incidence of cardiovascular disease gained wide medical acceptance. Exercise also appears to strengthen the immune system and ameliorate depression. Aerobic workout innovations from the 1980s to the early 2000s included such equipment as steps, weights, and elastic bands; cross-training programs, which involve two or more types of exercise; aerobic dances that combine yoga, martial arts, and other forms of movement with music, including African, Caribbean, salsa, hip-hop, rock, and jazz; and adaptations of such traditional activities as bicycling and boxing into aerobic routines such as spinning and cardio-kickboxing.


White, Timothy P., and the editors of the "University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter." The Wellness Guide to Lifelong Fitness. New York: Rebus, 1993.

CarolGaskin/d. b.

See alsoRecreation ; Sports .


views updated May 29 2018

aerobics Programmed rhythmic exercises, typically performed to music in sessions lasting the order of 30 min, at an intensity requiring the heart and respiratory rates to be high throughout most of the period but never maximal; original concept defined in numerical terms by Cooper in the 1960s. Contrast the more general physiological adjective ‘aerobic’.

Neil C. Spurway

See exercise.


views updated May 11 2018

aer·o·bics / əˈrōbiks; e(ə)ˈrō-/ • pl. n. [often treated as sing.] vigorous exercises, such as swimming or walking, designed to strengthen the heart and lungs.