Running and sprinting had been around since time immemorial and were associated with competitive running.
“Jogging”, on the other hand, achieved currency when individuals took up the deliberately paced trotting as part of fitness regimes in the 1970s.
James (Jim) Fixx was an important figure on the cusp of the jogging boom. In 1977, Fixx triggered a revolution in physical activity with his book The Complete Book of Running.
He made getting out of bed early to put on sweat clothes and sneakers the stylish thing to do. Panting and sweating became fashionable.
Although Fixx popularised the movement, years earlier Dr Kenneth Cooper had advocated jogging as a healthful activity in his book Aerobics in 1968.
Others, such as runner Bill Rodgers, had promoted physical activity as good for one’s health. But runners credited Fixx with universalising the sport through his book, which sold almost a million copies in hardback over a few years.
He got overweight people off couches and onto the roads. He advocated jogging or running as good for everything, from weight loss to better sex. He said joggers digested food better, felt better, and had more energy.
Would-be converts to running could identify with Fixx as an average guy, perhaps like them. In his book, he described how running changed his life. He was overweight and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day before hitting the road at age 32 in New York City, where he worked as a magazine editor in Manhattan.
“One of the more pleasant duties was to entertain authors at lunches and dinners,” he wrote of his editor’s job in the foreword to his book. He noted that in high school he weighed 170 pounds but ballooned later to 214 pounds. His only activity was weekend tennis.
Ironically, it was a pulled calf muscle from playing tennis that led to regular jogging. He started running slowly to strengthen the muscle and later became a running addict, competing eight times in the famed Boston Marathon.
Fitness experts urged people to get physical examinations before starting rigorous running programs. This included stress tests where the heart could be tested by cardiologists during a fast walk on a treadmill.
The purpose of jogging was to improve the heart and lungs by improving the delivery of oxygen through the body. Speed was not the main goal, fitness experts said, but time spent performing an aerobic activity which strengthened muscles and overall cardiovascular system.
Trainers suggested three or four runs a week, to give muscles that break down during exercise time to renew between runs. The experts said that during runs, an individual’s pulse rate should rise to about 70 or 80 per cent of his or her maximum rate.
The rule of thumb for calculating one’s maximum rate was 220 minus one’s age. Thus, a 40-year-old runner’s rate should rise to a level somewhere between 125 and 145 beats a minute. To test the level of strain, runners were urged to take a talk test. If they could not talk easily while running, they were straining and should slow down.
Fixx stressed that running could lower cholesterol and blood pressure, thus improving the cardiovascular system and otherwise giving people better lives.
Fixx himself, however, could not outrun his own genes. His father had suffered a heart attack at the age of 36 and died seven years later. While running on a country road in Vermont in 1984, Jim Fixx himself, fell and died of a heart attack, shocking the running world.
As it turned out, Fixx had not paid enough attention to earlier signs of heart problems, including chest pains he experienced only weeks before he died. He was just 52.