Oliver Halsted was granted a patent for an "exercising machine" in 1844. It was later marketed as the Health Jolting Chair. AKA the "wake-up chair." By pulling the levers on the side, it would bounce up and down. It was said to be a panacea for "dyspepsia, liver complaint, low spirits, general debility, constipation, 'so-called malaria,' jaundice, melancholia, and anemia."
Debbie Drake was the first woman to have a daily exercise show on TV. The show's intended audience was housewives, but as the Physical Culture Study blog notes, it was more popular with men:
Debbie Drake’s The Debbie Drake Show went national in 1961 and warned female viewers about the consequences of an unhappy marriage if they did not take care of their bodies. Drake’s media outreach included a newspaper column titled “Date with Debbie,” exercise albums and books, and a Barbie-like doll sold by Sears in the early 60s. Alluring and wearing a tight-fitting leotard that emphasized her incredible figure, Drake was reported as being more distracting than encouraging as a fitness instructor. No doubt this was aided by the fact that many stations broadcast her show at off hours, guaranteeing larger numbers of male viewers who appreciated her sexual appeal.
Richard Burgess's 1941 patent (No. 2,244,444) describes a pair of feathered wings that could be attached to the arms of an individual, who would then flap the wings up and down. This, claimed Burgess, would create a sense of buoyancy, while simultaneously providing physical exercise. In particular, it would "develop the chest, back, arm and leg muscles, while also tending to create accelerated breathing and thus general physical tone." It would do all this, he said, while also being "very diverting and accordingly attractive."
Retired professor Edwin Paget (1902-1989) decided that one of the problems with the world was that babies weren't exercising enough. Therefore, their brains started to go into decline. In an effort to correct this problem, he tried to organize what he claimed were the first ever "baby olympics" in the summer of 1980.
I'm not sure they were ever held, but events would have included "crawling, weightlifing, tug-of-war, 'head-over-heels rolling' and three aquatic events, including the 'leaping fish from the water' swim."
Paget advocated a number of other unusual ideas, such as periodic brain scans for U.S. presidents, to check that their brains had sufficient oxygen levels.
He believed that the rules of basketball should be revised so that the game would be played continuously, with all free throws shot at the end of the game.
And he also designed a line of women's clothing with built-in lighting, saying, "Unlike the bikini, which reveals almost everything, much of which is unattractive, lighting permits a homely girl to reveal only her best, possibly in color."
Evidently there's a long history of horse riding simulators as exercise devices.
Electro-mechanical horse with five gaits ranging from a trot to a running gallop.
Some of the benefits of horseback riding as a form of exercise can be obtained indoors with the aid of an electro-mechanical horse which not only provides fun for the children but sport for grown-ups as well. At a touch on the reins, the horse can be induced to break into any one of five gaits ranging from a trot to a gallop. Source:Popular Mechanics - May 1936
A modern-day simulator — that no longer looks like an actual horse:
Update: another old time indoor horse exercise machine.
The Peace Pilgrim (aka Mildred Lisette Norman) is fairly famous. In 1953 she began walking across America, wearing a shirt that said "Peace Pilgrim," and vowed to keep walking "until mankind has learned the way of peace." She was already an experienced walker when she started this, having been the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian trail in one season. She walked for 28 years until her death in 1981, logging over 25,000 miles.
Peace Pilgrim II (aka Ronald Podrow) isn't quite as famous or inspirational. In 1989, inspired by the first Peace Pilgrim, he adopted her name and also began walking to promote peace. But unlike her, he wasn't an experienced walker. From wikipedia:
Peace Pilgrim II was only able to walk the first year of his pilgrimage. After 2,000 miles on foot, his hips required surgical replacement, but he continued his pilgrimage thereafter with the aid of a donated car and Social Security benefits.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.