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Natalia Petrzela, Ph.D. – New School Associate Professor of History, Marathoner

“I am definitely not the first person to write about the history of fitness but I will say I think I am one of the first people who is connecting fitness culture in America to bigger political and cultural questions and doing so in a kind of popular way…I draw on the work of amazing scholars who have been working on fitness and physical culture but their work has been more within the academy. That’s a real privilege to be doing real research and to help amplify the work of people who have come before. As to why people haven’t thought about this as a meaningful and historical topic, it’s interesting. A lot of times, there’s this irony that our nation is obsessed with fitness. It’s being pushed on us all the time. ‘Work out!’ ‘Buy this machine!’ ‘Join this gym!’

At the same time, we’re one of the least fit nations out there. The question that animates my research is: How did we become a country obsessed with exercise? That is a really new thing. But also, why are we not more fit? Why is access to fitness not a democratically assured right, if most people in America would tell you ‘Yeah, exercise is a good thing.’”

On More Than Running, I try to talk to women from all aspects of the sport of running and beyond in order to expand my own personal knowledge and learn from thought leaders in their respective fields. This week’s guest is no exception to that; Natalia Petrzela is a self-described “scholar, writer, teacher, and activist” and I will add mother, podcaster, fitness instructor, and runner to that impressive list.

After discovering Natalia on Twitter, I was drawn in by an interesting Jezebel article she wrote about the history of “working out from home.” Natalia is currently writing a book titled Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise as the Government Abandoned It, which tackles questions about fitness culture in America, access to fitness, and our fitness identity as a nation. Most recently, Natalia was featured on NPR’s Code Switch discussing the whiteness of Running and its historical origins dating back to Bill Bowerman’s 1977 book title Jogging which sparked the jogging boom for white America.

In this episode of the podcast, we bounce around and discuss Natalia’s own fitness identity, her goals as a historian, and her hopes for the future of fitness. Enjoy!


▶  Follow Natalia on Instagram here.

▶ Follow Dana: Twitter | Instagram

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