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Healthy Living: Taking Lessons from the 1950s for a Fitter Future

written by

Travis Cole

posted on

July 13, 2023

In glancing through photographs from the 1950s, you'd likely notice an intriguing phenomenon - everyone looks fit and healthy. There were no specialized diets like keto or paleo, no gym memberships, no advanced fitness technology, no wellness influencers. They weren't drinking protein shakes or meticulously counting calories. So, what's changed since then, and crucially, where did we go wrong?

The answer lies in our dramatically transformed lifestyles. Modern technological conveniences, while enhancing our lives in countless ways, have also instigated a largely sedentary existence for many. We often spend the bulk of our day sitting, be it at work on computers or leisurely enjoying screen-based entertainment. This stark shift from the active, outdoorsy lifestyle of the 1950s has led to an upsurge in obesity and lifestyle-related health issues.

Two Significant Factors:

  1. Our Altered Food Landscape

    Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that increased energy intake from food is more than sufficient to explain the obesity epidemic in the US1. Today, we're exposed to larger portion sizes and an overwhelming array of highly processed, calorie-dense foods. Contrast this with the 1950s, where home-cooked meals featuring fresh, whole foods were the norm. Fast food was a rarity, and the concept of "snacking" was nearly non-existent.

  2. The Decline in Physical Activity Levels

    A study featured in Circulation emphasizes the significance of energy balance and its role in obesity2. Energy balance refers to the calories we consume through food and those we burn through physical activity. During the 1950s, physical activity was a natural part of daily life. With more walking, prevalent manual labor, and even physically intensive household chores, maintaining this balance was straightforward. Today, our sedentary lifestyles tip this balance towards more calorie intake than expenditure.

How to Sculpt a Healthier Future?

  1. Prioritize Whole Foods

    Aim to incorporate more whole foods into your diet – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like 100% grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, duck, turkey, and pork, as well as wild-caught Alaskan seafood. Minimize the consumption of processed foods, which are often laden with added sugars and unhealthy fats.

  2. Infuse Daily Life with Physical Activity

    Remember, every movement counts. If a gym routine seems intimidating, start with smaller steps. Walk more, take the stairs, garden, or do some household chores. These may seem inconsequential, but they accumulate over time.

  3. Cook More at Home

    Home cooking not only provides control over what's in your food but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the process. It can be an enjoyable and therapeutic activity promoting healthier eating habits.

In essence, it's about reverting to basics. By introducing small, sustainable changes to our diets and activity levels, we can garner significant health benefits and perhaps, reflect the robust healthiness of the people in the 1950s beach photos!


1 Swinburn, B., Sacks, G., & Ravussin, E. (2009). Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(6), 1453-1456.

2 Hill, J. O., Wyatt, H. R., & Peters, J. C. (2012). Energy balance and obesity. Circulation, 126(1), 126-132.

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