The developing understanding of Human Health and Fitness: 9. The Post-Modern Era

Roy J. Shephard


This final segment in this history of health and fitness looks at the Post-Modern Era, through to the year 2012. New form of technology such as the metabolic cart, signal averagers and echocardiograms, isokinetic torque recorders, needle biopsy, automated cell sorting and counting and gene sequencers now speed research in many areas of exercise science, kinesiology, exercise biochemistry and exercise immunology. Recent politicians have shown a varying personal interest in physical fitness. Several recent American leaders have played team sports, but in Canada some of our leaders have shown a greater interest in outdoor recreation than in sport. The increasing longevity of Western populations speaks to their better overall health. An earlier epidemic of cardiovascular disease has now been partially contained, but it has given place to a growing prevalence of obesity. The Lalonde Report, the Romanow Commission, the Ottawa Charter and a series of consensus conferences have clarified many of the relationships between physical activity and disease prevention, and several North American journals now examine details of these relationships. Occupational health and cardiac rehabilitation programmes have attracted growing interest, and the U.S. finally has introduced a scheme for nation-wide health insurance. Canadian contributions to the study of fitness over the past 50 years have included the standardization of exercise test methodology, and coordination of the physiologic work capacity component of the International Biological Programme Human Adaptability Project. Exercise scientists have underlined the safety of appropriately prescribed physical activity for most of the worlds population, and they have begun the difficult task of defining optimal dose-response relationships for individuals with various types of clinical disorder. Other recent initiatives of Canadian exercise scientists have included the development of tools for population screening and the field testing of physical fitness, the conduct of representative national fitness surveys, quasi-experimental evaluations of the benefits of enhanced physical education for school children, a detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of worksite fitness programmes, and the demonstration that conservation of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is associated with a high level of physical fitness. Fitness awards and advertising by ParticipACTION have attempted to enhance the level of physical activity in the general population, with only limited success. Many Canadian universities now offer doctoral programmes in kinesiology, and the emphasis in school physical education programmes is shifting from the promotion of sports teams to the teaching of physical activities that will carry over into adult life. Minimum fitness needs in physically demanding occupations have been defined in the context of human rights legislation, and kinesiologists have increasingly demonstrated the beneficial impact of regular physical activity upon various facets of the aging process. International-level sports programmes have received growing support from governments and commercial sponsors, with a multiplication of the corresponding professional associations. High-risk activities such as mountain biking, Himalayan trekking, snow and skate-boarding, wind-surfing, parachuting, hang-gliding and rock-climbing have become popular with many young men. Mass participation events such as marathon runs have also involved large segments of the general population. Outward Bound and trail walking programmes have offered other interesting possibilities for outdoor activity. Olympic and Masters Games now cater to women and the elderly, but athletic competition has lost much of its earlier idealism. Back-room laboratories are pitted against one another in a search for legal or illegal means of enhancing the performance. of contestants. Sex and age scandals, physical attacks on opponents and biased judging further sully top-level competition, and cheating is a concern even in the Paralympic Games. The costs of international competition (including associated security measures) have become enormous, and claims that such expenses are offset by a beneficial impact upon public interest in physical activity seem highly doubtful.


Consensus conferences; Doping; Dose-response relationships; Echocardiogram; Female participation; Fitness awards; Fitness surveys; High-risk sports; Inuit lifestyle; Isokinetic testing; Masters competition; Metabolic cart; Muscle biopsy; Occupational fitn

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ISSN: 19206216