The World of Fitness and Health
Sun, April 18, 2021

The World of Fitness and Health

Fitness, as we know it today, seems like a modern type of activity and invention given that a lot of the exercise that we do involves different methods, machines, and equipment. But physical exercise actually goes back further than many of us realize / Photo by ammentorp via 123RF


Fitness, as we know it today, seems like a modern type of activity and invention given that a lot of the exercise that we do involves different methods, machines, and equipment. But physical exercise actually goes back further than many of us realize, dating back to when people wouldn’t have considered the act of physical exercise as something called “working out.” This used to be a way of everyday life. Centuries and millennia ago, there were no such things as a workout, and yet, many who lived back then were still in better shape than we ever will be today.


A Brief History of Fitness

During primal times, before modern man at around 10,000 B.C., physical development was a natural occurrence due to the demands of everyday life. That is, the ability to run for your life or after a game animal in a wild landscape as well as the crucial need to avoid threats and seize opportunities for survival, as mentioned in Art of Manliness, a philosophy website. To survive back then, people constantly needed to run, walk, balance, jump, crawl, climb, lift, carry, throw, catch, and fight the forces of nature without the help of elaborate tools and machines. It is also assumed that playfulness and dancing were a result of predators not being around, and a happy man with a full belly. Today, caveman fitness will never be completely known to man, but it is reflected in the traits that people carry still. Strength and mobility were developed by daily, instinctive, necessity-driven practice of practical and adaptable movements. Today, hunter and gatherer tribes still exist around the world, with no concept of fitness because this is already ingrained in what they do for their everyday lives.

Between 10,000 B.C. and 8,000 B.C., the agricultural revolution changed the physical activity of man, from demands of hunting and gathering to growing food and raising cattle. With it, chores and daily farm labor became the new focus. This was repetitive and required similar ranges of movements, such as climbing ladders and many more.

Then, between 4,000 B.C. and the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., civilizations rose and fell amidst wars involving the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and many more, imposing physical training on boys and young men. Ancient military training was a mixture of cavemen hunting, but with structure and a different end goal. Physical skills learned were running on uneven terrain, jumping, crawling, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, as well as unarmed and armed close-quarters fighting. During this time, sports grew popular as well, and this included jumping games, throwing javelins or discus, and fighting an opponent via wrestling. The body’s beauty and strength were most embraced and became an essential part of having a sound mind and body, essentially developing into more than just a necessity but a way of life.

During the Dark Ages from the 5th to the 15th century, the Middle Ages focused on the teachings of Christianity, which spread belief that the body was sinful and unimportant, focusing on the soul and the afterlife instead. Only dominant individuals in society underwent physical training while the rest of the population received exercise through hard labor. The Renaissance Era from 1400 to 1600 reintroduced concepts of open interest in the body, anatomy, biology, health, and physical education. Philosophers discussed the benefits of exercise, games, and sports, as well as hygiene and diet. The industrial revolution in 1774 and further refined physical exercise in games such as wrestling, running, riding, fencing, vaulting, dancing, and gymnastics. In 1847, physical education started, with a principal focus in schools amidst national wars and conflict.

The rise of modern fitness in the 20th century is characterized by competitive sports and the emergence of an organized and thriving “fitness” market. Fitness magazines started being distributed, physique contests were being organized, various fitness machines were being developed and innovated.

The Fitness Industry Today

In a Nielsen Global Consumer Exercise Trends 2014 report, it was revealed that 78% of adults over 18 years old exercise or would like to while 22% have no interest in exercising and 39% exercise regularly with 87% of that percentage exercise three or more times a week. Another 39% are not exercising but would like to. Millennials dominate all kinds of activities, with 76% of regular exercisers aged 18 to 34 years old. Additionally, 61% of regular exercisers are currently doing gym-type activities with 36% into fitness class activities and 37% using an equipment-based type of activities. Other popular activities include running, swimming, cycling, walking, which are even more popular than gym-type activities. Less popular activities include team and individual sports, boxing, and with physical trainers among others. Much good has come from various development and innovation in health, fitness methods, programs, and resources. But, the general population today has never been so physically sedentary and out of shape. One World Health Organization report indicated that life expectancy in the US has dropped for the first time since 1993. 

The state of modern fitness has evolved because of the differences in the necessity to move as compared to prehistoric times while facilities, communities for fitness, and gym locations such as Les Mills provide the opportunity for people to develop and work on their fitness. Between the body and the mind, we are not limited in our capabilities, nor are we limited to communities and environments created specifically for physical fitness. As humans, we must realize that we are not limited to equipment for building muscle and strength or classes to teach us how to move. Fitness and health are innate in most people, and they are achievable. As mentioned in the Art of Manliness, author Richard Louv stated, “The future will belong to the nature-smart. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

Many of us have learned to neglect physical fitness and true health. But the truth is, we all still have a real, innate, and natural potential to be strong, powerful, graceful, and the will to survive.