Fitness History - The History of Fitness

The evolution of fitness can be attributed to man’s need for survival and can be traced back to the beginning of mankind.

Primitive men (pre-10,000 B.C) need to be fit to be able to go through their journey to hunt for food and water. Being nomads and hunters, the activities of this people required a lot of physical activity and fitness (their celebration events included trips of six to twenty miles to neighboring tribes to visit friends and family).

With the invention of the plow and other agricultural development (10,000-8,000 B.C) comes the beginning of a less active lifestyle. Neolithic men started using plow and animals to do the difficult tasks, thus decreasing the amount of physical activity.

In the ancient civilization (2500-250 B.C), people started relating physical activity with physical well-being. In China, through the philosophical teachings of Confucius, they associated certain diseases with physical inactivity. This lead through the development of Cong Fu gymnastics.

During the same period, Yoga was developed in India. Yoga is an exercise program that conforms to Hinduism and Buddhism beliefs and puts emphasis on spirituality.

In 4000-250 B.C, there was a strong demand for fitness for military purposes. People during that era linked fitness with one’s performance in the military. Activities like hunting, marching, riding and javelin throwing have been developed to meet the need for physically fit soldiers. The Persian Empire and Spartans are good examples of empires that make use of fitness for this purpose. Spartans required fitness for men to be good soldiers and for women to bear children who are fit to serve the state. Because of this, Sparta actually became one of the most physically fit societies in history.

For the Ancient Greeks (2500-200 B.C), working to be physically healthy is as important as developing the mind. It is during this period when Gymnastics with music gained popularity from the idea that exercise is for the body and music is for the soul.

The Romans (200 B.C.-476 A.D) shared the same views with the Spartans. They also regarded fitness as important for military service. However, the Roman civilization fell into the hands of the Barbarian tribes. Their downfall may be blamed on their lavish lifestyles which caused a decline of interest in fitness.

During the Dark and the Middle Ages (900-1400), fitness experienced a revival since physical activity was viewed as a means for survival.

Michelangelo's David during the Renaissance Period With the new interest in the human body during the Renaissance Period come the revival of the Greek ideal about the importance for fitness. A lot of famous people at that time promoted the idea that good health contributes to intelligence. It is also during this time when physical education gained popularity as the main tool in spreading the value of fitness.

In Germany (1700-1850), Friedrich Jahn earned the title “Father of German Gymnastics”. He believed that having a physically fit nation decreases the vulnerability against foreign invasion.

Per Henrik Ling of Sweden introduced three gymnastics programs 1. educational gymnastics 2. military gymnastics and 3. medical gymnastics. With his strong medical background, he uses physiology in his study on the importance of fitness.

In England, a medical student named Archibald Maclaren became an important figure. Like Ling, he pointed that fitness programs vary for each individual. He also pioneered the idea that the cure for stress and fatigue was physical activity, and that physical exercise in games and sports is not enough to be perfectly fit. He later documented the importance of progression exercise.

The United States was generally influenced by European cultures in the beginning, though German and Swedish gymnastics did not gain popularity at once. It is in the US where there had been active participation from the government to promote health and fitness. Presidents like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (1776-1860) acknowledged the need for fitness. In the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt, who is perhaps United States fittest president; encouraged people to be physically active by setting an example.

In June 1956, President Eisenhower held a White House Conference which aimed to promote fitness in the United States. This was prompted by the study made by Kraus-Hirchland, “Minimum Muscular Fitness Tests in Children, which was presented to him by Senators James Kelly and James Duff. The study showed that about 60 percent of American children failed at least one of the tests compared to the nine percent of European children. The Conference resulted to the formation of the President’s Council of Youth Fitness and the appointment of the President’s Citizen Advisory of Fitness of America.

President John F. Kennedy Among the presidents, President John F. Kennedy (1960s) had been the most involved in promoting fitness in America. He changed the name of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to President’s Council on Fitness with Bud Wilkinson as head. He also wrote an article for Sports Illustrated entitled “The Soft American”. President Kennedy encouraged the government to be involved in the promotion of fitness and also started youth fitness programs.

Many Americans also took part on the development of fitness in the United States. Dr. J.C. Warren (1776-1860) began devising exercises for female. Catherine Beecher developed a system of calisthenics performed to music which is similar to modern-day aerobics. “The New Gymnastics” was introduced by Dioclesian Lewis in 1865. Edward Hitchcock introduced the use of anthropometric measurements to assess fitness progress. William Anderson, on the other hand, gave focus on physical education instruction. Dudley Sargent developed organized instructor teaching methodologies.

In the 1950s, Jack LaLanne, a media fitness instructor, developed aerobics, water aerobics and resistance exercise. He is also the person behind the first cable-pulley machine, Smith machine (safety system for doing squats), the first leg extension machine and the “jumping jack movement”.

After the World War II, as in the past war, fitness gained attention because of the alarming number of Americans who are found unfit during the drafting process. The important figure in fitness during this time is Dr. Thomas K. Cureton who initiated the application of research to fitness, improving exercise recommendation to individuals. He is also the person behind tests for cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility.

In the 1960s, a man named Dr. Ken H. Cooper earned the title “The Father of the Modern Fitness Movement”. His philosophy is to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet, and emotional balance for disease prevention.

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