Origin, Evolution and Current State of Physical Fitness.

Divya's Dietu - Health Bites 11-Jul-2020

Origin, Evolution and Current State of Physical Fitness.

The physical fitness we know today is the result of modern invention. Jogging, gym exercises, diet, and much more started 40 years back roughly. But the art of physical fitness is known to mankind much further age than that, where the people wouldn't even realize it as working out, but rather a way of life.

Machines and weights were not their thousands of years before and yet people were in better shape than we are. Let's have a look at the journey of fitness culture and what we have lost along the way.

  • History and Evolution:
    During Primeval times, survival depends on one's movement. People had to move for living, hunting, and avoiding threats in the wild harsh landscape. Moving not only includes running, but also early man jump, crawl, walk, balance, climb, swim, carry, catch, throw, fight, play and dance before the prey for survival. Humankind was naturally strong and fit.

Crop culture brought a dramatic transition in man's physical activity. Growing food and raising cattle meant a lot of work but the need for doing complex movements were vanished.

Civilizations rose and fell through war and conquest. Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Greeks all imposed physical training on young men to prepare for battle. Young men practiced all the survival activities of a cavemen during the military training but in a structured way.

Not only battle, but fitness was also a crucial element in sports too. Athletic competitions exist from ancient Egypt and the ancient Greeks created the famous Olympic games.

Most importantly, Greeks and Romans celebrated the body's beauty and strength. They believe physical training is an essential part of complete education.

  • The Dark Period:

The Medieval period was mostly filled with complete confusion and disorder. Rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, barbarian invasion and spread of diseases like plague.

Christianity was spreading rapidly which teaches body as sinful and unimportant, rather it was man's soul that is true. Education was focused on cultivating the mind rather than training the body.

  • The Renaissance Era:

The period from 1400-1600 saw a great interest in biology, health, anatomy, and physical education.

There were books that addresses physical exercise with its benefits and how to recover from exercise injuries. Also, there were chapters regarding games for women, children and elderly.

First book on sports medicine was written with Greek and Roman approach to hygiene, diet and exercise and their use of natural methods for the treatment of disease.

  • Period of Industrial Revolution:

The transition from manual production methods to machine-based production trend changed the way people lived, worked, and MOVED. People were pushed towards intentional physical exercise.

Games on fitness like wrestling, fencing, running, riding, dancing become integral part of the educational curriculum.

Staying fit, healthy, and serving the battle became a point of pride and patriotism.

Guts Muths (Great Grandfather of Gymnastics), a German teacher developed basic principles of artistic gymnastics. His book and ideas spread across Europe and America.

Open-air gymnasiums were founded. Greece, Sweden, Spain, France, England, and other European countries practiced gymnastics in their own exercise models. Every nation wanted to train their men as fit as possible and also, they wanted to rise to the top of nature's hierarchy.

  • USA in Fitness:

The threat of foreign invasion demanded USA to prepare for the battle. Also, German practitioners opened gymnasiums in America. There was awareness for physical fitness to both sexes.

Calisthenics was developed and practiced on top of gymnastics.

In 1796, Gymnasticon was invented which opened the path for equipment-based fitness.

  • Modern Fitness turned into business:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Frenchman Edmond Desbonnet managed to make physical exercise and strength training more fashionable by publishing fitness journals and by opening chains of exercise clubs.

During the same period in USA, Bernarr Macfadden recommended a minimalist lifestyle based on time spent in nature, daily rigorous exercise and elimination of alcohol, tea, coffee, and white bread from one's diet. Macfadden founded one of the first muscle magazine with a muscle developer on the cover. He staged the first physique contest in America in 1903.

At this point, we enter the age of confusion and promises. The concept of fitness turned into business with different body-building approach, sophisticated machines in gyms, supplement business, magazines, books, DVDs and now fitness apps. They all promised one thing "best shape as quick as possible".

  • Loss or Gain??:

So much has been gained out of these developments like awareness on exercise, how human body works and much more.

Despite endless health and fitness methods, general population has never been so out-of-shape and the health of modern people is declining.

What happened then?. People are not motivated to move their body like in the past. The motivation nowadays for exercising is to "look" fit. It is no longer about having a healthy body by doing real life activities.

The most common view is that you need machines for cardio, muscle building and weight reduction. Vitamins, supplements, protein shakes make great body and muscle.


Now exercise become another work which people force themselves to do, not a pleasure anymore. And everything comes with a price which most people cannot afford to do.

Also, our fitness needs are confused by what method to choose from. "Do I have to work out or do yoga or go to gym or just diet? ". We lost clarity and simplicity which made us to lose all our naturalness.