Guest Post: A Comprehensive Look At The History of Physical Fitness


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The way we look at physical fitness today is way too different from the way people used to consider it during the stone age or bronze age. Today, joining a fitness program is more of a status symbol than having an urge to get a strong and healthy body so that you can easily carry out physical activities related to your everyday life.

Today’s fitness culture is all about joining expensive and lavish gyms to get a perfect body shape. Now people give more importance to how they look, rather than how strong they are from within.

In fact, staying fit has become a real challenge for people nowadays, because they live a very comfortable life wherein they don’t have to do much physical work. Whether you talk about the household work or other important activities associated with your daily life, you use modern equipment and appliances to accomplish your work.

With the advancement of technology, human life has become really simpler and easier, which plays a crucial role in affecting a person’s fitness level. In fact, experts at Whole Body Health Physical Therapy in Portland also believe that “knowing the right exercises to do to prepare for fitness activities is key.

Now Let’s Take A Look At The History of Fitness

Well, in the ancient time, having a perfect body was not that important for people, as they used to get it naturally because of the kind of hard work they used to do. Since there were no advanced tools people had to accomplish all the work manually, which used to involve a lot of walking, running, jumping, crawling and balancing.

For example, before the introduction of agriculture, people used to obtain their foods either from the forest or by hunting. That was the time when they had to do a lot of hard work and physical activities to survive, and because of that their fitness levels were far too better when compared to today’s people – who have all the facilities.

People in ancient time were not dependent on any sort of structured fitness program to strengthen their bodies. Rather than that their day-to-day physical activities used to provide the necessary strength to their bodies. The necessity-driven practices followed by them which demanded tremendous physical activities kept them healthy.

For example, if you talk about hunter-gatherer tribes, they had to do a lot of physical work to survive in harsh natural conditions, and that’s what kept them fit.

Crop Cultural Changed Human Life Tremendously

Agricultural revolution played a crucial role in shaping human life. It had brought a huge difference in the way people started doing physical activities. In other words, since agricultural revolution played a crucial role in making human life much more easier when compared to earlier times, it also brought a sea change when it comes to carrying out physical activities.

The introduction of agriculture and farming changed the nomadic life that people used to live earlier, wherein they had to roam from one place to another in the search of food.

Since people started growing crops by staying in one place, there came a drastic change when it comes to performing physical activities like running, walking, balancing, jumping, and climbing etc. Such activities began to diminish with the introduction farming culture when compared to the earlier time.

A Civilised Society


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After the introduction of agriculture, people became more civilized, they started living in a society and hence they started enjoying a better life.

However, the ancient civilizations were heavily involved in wars, and because of that, they had to perform a lot of physical work. Whether you talk about Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and Babylonians they were all involved in heavy wars and because of that, they used to get military training. Military training sessions used to be more structured which again brought a significant level of change in the fitness levels of people during that time.

With the passage of time Greeks as well as Romans also encouraged military training among their people. Such training sessions were basically about walking, running and jumping on rugged terrain. In addition to that, training also involved carrying bulky things, climbing, and fighting without arms.

The civilized society started giving importance to physical culture by encouraging sports culture. Ancient Greeks were too much into sports, and perhaps that’s the reason they ended up with hosting first Olympic games – which became extremely popular among people with the passage of time.

And with the passage of time Greeks and Romans also gave huge importance to physical education. They started encouraging physical education in schools. Yes, after a period of time physical education kind of became an extremely crucial part of their education systems.

A More Recent Look At The History of Fitness

Europeans were always ahead of everyone else when it comes to promoting fitness culture. Today’s modern fitness culture came into the picture because of the contributions of European educators.

  • One of the very first schools wherein physical education was given a lot of importance was opened way back in 1420 by an Italian humanist named Vittorino da Feltre.
  • The first book which spoke volumes about the importance physical education was written back in 1553 by Cristobal Mendez – a native of Spain. The name of the book was El Libro del Ejercicio Corporal y Sus Provechos wherein the author had effectively spoken about sports, exercise, and games. In addition to that, the book also contained effective advice on how to deal with different types of physical injuries.
  • Apart from that, Mercurialis, who as an Italian Physician wrote De Arte Gymnastica and it was all about the importance given by Romans and Greeks to physical fitness. It spoke deeply about how they viewed exercise and hygiene. In addition to that, De Arte Gymnastica also spoke largely about how to cure diseases with natural methods. It played its own part in introducing the concept of physical therapy for the first time in history. The book which is generally considered as the very first work on sports medicine encouraged the significance of physical education in Europe.
  • The Industrial Revolution which introduced machine-based product manufacturing brought a huge difference when it comes to the way people lived their lives.
  • Guts Muths, who was a German teacher published an interesting book called – Gymnastik für die Jugend – or Gymnastics For the Youth in 1800. This book inspired youths to take their physical fitness seriously.
  • Friedrich Jahn, who was known as “The Father of Gymnastics,” published a book called Die Deutsche Turnkunst (The German Gymnastics) in the year 1816 which was all about the gymnastics system. Because of his strong ideas related to the physical culture, he was not only popular among Europeans but also among the Americans.
  • When it comes to spreading awareness about physical culture in the 20th century the contributions of Georges Hebert remain really important. He published a book in 1920 called “L’Education Physique ou entrainment Complet par la Methode Naturelle” which inspired people to encourage the importance of physical education. English translation of the title is – Complete Training by the Natural Method.
  • In the USA, Catharine Beecher is considered as one of the most important people who spread awareness among people about physical culture.
  • In addition to that, Charles Beck who was a German scholar also played a crucial role in promoting the importance of physical culture in the USA. Charles Beck is known for establishing the country’s first gym in Massachusetts.
  • Dudley Allen Sargent – the founder of physical education in the US was tremendously inspired by the European tradition. He was associated with the famous Harvard University as director of the Hemenway Gymnasium, wherein he worked from 1879 to 1919.

Modern Fitness Industry

The modern fitness industry started taking shape in the 20th century. It means, people in the 20th century started following more structured fitness programs, wherein they even started using modern fitness equipment.

If you talk particularly about the US, Bernarr Macfadden became a popular figure who encouraged physical education. He was one of those people who emphasized the importance of eliminating caffeinated products like tea and coffee from the diet. In addition to that, he also advised people to stop the consumption of alcohol for living a healthy life. He was the founder of Physical Culture – a muscle magazine. The magazine was launched in 1899.

Since all the great educators always emphasized on using natural methods to enhance fitness and cure diseases, today physical therapy is considered as one of the best ways to treat musculoskeletal pain and body injuries.

About The Author:
David is a graduate student and also a writer. He loves to write on health related issues, music and all about travel. When he is not writing, you can find him at the coffee shop. Hit David up on twitter at @dmilsont!


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