Physical training and fitness have been an integral part of human culture from the dawn of civilization. Originally driven by subsistence needs, they are now seen as essential components for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Through the history of physical training and fitness, there have been a number of significant events that have shaped its direction. Some examples include:
The High Esteem for Physical Education
Ancient Greece held great value on physical education and fitness. This attitude was even evident in the first Olympic Games (776 BC to 349 AD), which required participants to train for months prior to competition as well as adhere to a strict diet and other physical activities.
During the Renaissance, there was a surge in interest in learning which spurred physical education across Europe. Many believed that physical fitness enhanced intellectual growth and encouraged children to participate in activities such as balance, gymnastics, dancing and running.
Around this time period, physical education and exercise programs began to flourish in England, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden. Gymnastics was especially popular across Europe – particularly Germany, Denmark and Sweden – at this time.
In the 1800s, Frenchman Hippolyte Triat opened a gym in Paris that catered to both aristocracy and youth of 1840 France. This gym had an enormous impact on physical training and health – eventually leading to bodybuilding contests!
The Roaring ’20s
After World War I, government legislation was passed to enhance physical education curriculums in public schools. Unfortunately, the effects of the conflict on American economy and society caused many physical education programs to falter.
In the 1920s and the Great Depression, there was a nationwide decline in fitness levels. This could partly be attributed to an increase in entertainment, eating and drinking during this period of escapism.
Another factor contributing to this downward trend was the introduction of “Muscular Fitness,” a term which defined muscular functionality as significantly lower in America than it did in Europe. This discovery served as an impetus for national attention to emphasize physical fitness as a priority.
Presidents and Politicians in the Modern Era
As the 20th century came to an end, many of America’s greatest Presidents recognized the significance of physical fitness. Theodore Roosevelt in particular saw exercise as essential for personal well-being; he encouraged citizens to stay physically fit while maintaining a positive outlook on life.
Other political leaders in the United States recognized the significance of fitness, such as Catharine Beecher. She promoted physical fitness awareness throughout the nation and daily exercises for both men and women alike at her Hartford Female Seminary – the first school to offer such instruction for both sexes.