A Brief History of Physical Fitness

Ever wondered about the history of physical fitness, and how we ended up with gym memberships and training centers? Well, here’s a brief look back in time at the development of our fitness history: “Run For Your Life” 0-10,000 B. C. E: In the age of primitive man no one was buying memberships to the gym; they were too busy running from predators, hunting down food sources, and trying to survive to worry about ‘working out’. 10,000-8,000 B. C. E: Big changes happened for humankind in this era; no longer considered primitives, our ancestors had begun domesticating plants and animals, and farming tools were being developed.

Hunting trips no longer lasted for days, and gathering food became very easy in the new agricultural societies. Indeed, life was still physically demanding, but many of the elders no doubt noted how easy the next generation had it compared to them. This was the beginning of an increasingly sedentary way of life. 4000-250 B. C. E: Having observed the history of physical fitness and linked it to increased military prowess,countries such as Egypt, Palestine, and Syria encouraged physical fitness in their general populations.


The Persian Empire required all citizens to be fit from early childhood to ensure that their military would always be in fighting condition. “Run For Your Quality of Life”. 2500-250 B. C. E: In countries such as China, Japan, and India, they realized thatsome illnesses could be traced to physical inactivity. They developed exercises to keep the body fit and healthy, such as dancing, fencing, and yoga. The ancient Greeks were mad for fit bodies as well and physical fitness was considered essential to general well-being and just as important as intellectual development. B. C. E-476 A. C. E: The Roman Empire drafted citizens between 17 and 60 years old(!!! ), so people were obligated to be physically fit for most of their lives. But as the Roman Empire grew wealthier and more powerful it also grew lazier and more hedonistic, making them soft targets for the Barbarians, who eventually concurred the Roman Empire. 476-1400: Ahhh, the Dark and Middle Ages. This era is known as literally a dark age for the intellectual, spiritual, and artistic development of humankind. And you know, this is quite likely true.

However, the Barbarians brought their primitive lifestyles with them and with that, humans were on the run again, chasing down their dinner. This a part of history where physical fitness had made a hell of a comeback. 1400-1600: The Renaissance period ushered in a new era of intellectual and cultural development, and a renewed interest in the ‘fit body, fit mind’ philosophy. Once again history tells us the Greeks were at the helm, but it wouldn’t be long before continental Europe caught wind of it and liked what they heard. 700-1850: This era of history when physical fitness programs expanded throughout Europe, often fueled by nationalistic pride, and the first real modern fitness movement was born. At this time, British medical students became interested in documenting their observations and theories about physical fitness and realized that different people had different needs. 1776-1860: European ideas on physical fitness influenced the New World, but Europe’s passion for gymnastics fails to take root and the focus lands on sports such as swimming and running.

Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are proponents of physical fitness, but it’s not yet part of the education system. Exercises specifically for women are developed and become a pre-cursor to modern aerobics, i. e. calisthenic movement set to music. 1865-1900: The Industrial Revolution changed the way that people lived and died. Day to day life became more urban and less physically demanding, the downside of which would begin to surface in the fifties and sixties as ‘new’ diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease began to show in the population.

Around this time sports became popular in the U. S and thus most physical fitness programs began to focus on sports training, the merits of which were challenged and continue to be challenged to this day. 1900-1920: Despite Theodore Roosevelt having set the standard for presidents to follow–in terms of physical fitness at least–many soldiers who returned home from World War 1 in 1918 were deemed unfit for combat, spurring the American government to pass legislation to improve physical fitness in public schools. 920-1939: A common response the end of war is indulgence and repose, and the end of World War 1 was no exception. The roaring twenties ended with the stockmarket crash and the ensuing depression. Physical fitness was the least of most people’s worries. 1940-Present: Literally the entire world was preoccupied with World War II, the end of which would kick-start the cold war and a period of intense competition with between the United States and the “communists” over almost everything, including physical fitness.

It was during this period that fitness tests for cardio-respiratory endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility were developed. “Run For Your Quality of Life At Your Personal Best” The obsession with analyzing fitness and maximizing athletic potential carries on today, with new discoveries and theories being published on a near daily basis. As we’ve seen, throughout history, physical fitness was once prized as a military and political strength which was, over time, trumped by the desire for indulgence and easier living before once again being resurrected in athletic competitivness and development.

From viewing this timeline and the history of physical fitness it’s clear to see that physical fitness has had a lot of ups and downs in terms of being a priority, but it’s value was never questioned. Physical fitness has been an issue to humans for as long as we’ve been alive, and though our survival no longer depends on outrunning a T-Rex, it DOES remain dependent on being physically fit and maintaining good health. [1]

Reference:

1. A Brief History of Physical Fitness. Retrieved June 23, 2013. From: http://www.no-iron- fitness.com/history-physical-fitness.html

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