A "Peanuts" comic strip from 1977 about Snoopy exercising

Good grief! Snoopy and the Peanuts gang are at it again.

Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz spent years penning art of his characters getting physical. Now, prior to The Peanuts Movie opening on Friday, an e-book version of Snoopy the Fitness Fanatic has been released by Open Road Media. Paperback compilations of the comics were printed in 1989 and in 2000.

Schulz largely invented the modern comic strip 65 years ago today with Peanuts. It still has a broad audience, running in about 2,000 newspapers worldwide and translated into 25 languages.

As a cartoonist, Schulz often called on his own personal experiences, showing his characters’ thoughts on eating healthy and physical activity.

He was an avid exerciser and worked to follow a heart-healthy diet after bypass surgery in 1981.  In 1983, Schulz drew Snoopy in his role as “The World Famous Surgeon” while presenting to the Western Heart Institute in San Francisco.

He had several small strokes in 1999 and a blocked aorta after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He died in 2000 at age 77.

Peanuts, which had a huge international following, top-rated animated TV specials and exhibits in Carnegie Hall and the Louvre, may have influenced readers to live healthier.

Popular media plays an important role in disseminating information and setting cultural norms, said Russell R. Pate, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

“We’ve known for a long time that if scientific findings get reported in academic journals, that has almost no impact on practice or the population unless the information makes into the popular media,” said Pate, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer.

Pate said he was pleasantly surprised recently when he received a Dilbert comic lamenting the risks of sedentary behavior in the workplace.

“My first thought was, ‘the science is hitting mainstream!’” he said.

Popular media helps get the ideas to people and helps them gain acceptance. In Peanuts, Schultz’s iconic characters are shown struggling with motivation to exercise, fad diets and other health-related issues while reflecting changing attitudes and acceptance of growing calls to exercise and eat healthier foods.

In a scene that rings true today, a panel from 1977 shows Snoopy atop the roof of his doghouse, drumming up the energy to go jogging, then weathering complaints from various body parts as he runs.

Pate said that decades ago, it was odd to see adults exercise. But Peanuts highlights when those changes began.

“We still have more work to do to shift the cultural norm so people are living a more physically active life,” he said.

Physical activity is an important lifestyle factor, lowering risks for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.