The History of Fitness

Many centuries ago, people were considered in more decent shape than we are, yet they did not have all the current machines, weights and gyms. Today, people are advised to behave like hunters and gatherers in order to reduce the risk of chronic disease and live longer. Hunter-gatherers tended to engage in short bursts of physical activity which was followed by periods of rest. Health experts are agreeing that this may be a healthier way to live. However this form of search for food changed with the advent of more modern farming that had limited physical activity. Ploughing, harrowing, seeding, tending to animals, haying, and harvesting were all done by hand and couldn’t match the vigor of hunting and gathering.


Although sketchy and having unknown precise beginnings, some ancient fitness activities include tai chi, swimming, yoga and running among others. The first physician to prescribe daily moderate exercising was Susruta of India, while Hippocrates of Greece pioneered a written exercise prescription for patients to manage disease. Thereafter physicians started advocating for exercising in order to minimize health related problems such as obesity, diabetes, as well as inactivity. China started practicing breathing exercises or medical gymnastics as early as 2600 BCE, for patients with fevers, chills or paralysis. Marcus Cicero a Lawyer and Roman politician stated that “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”



In China, physical inactivity was associated with heart disease and diabetes among other diseases. These were preventable with regular exercising for fitness where the philosophical teachings of Confucius encouraged participation in regular physical activity. These included Cong Fu gymnastics developed to keep the body in good, working condition. These exercises were characterized by various stances, change of positions, foot and hand movements, as well as imitations of different animal fighting styles. Other forms of physical activities included archery, badminton, dancing, fencing, and wrestling.


The individual pursuit of fitness was discouraged as the religious beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism emphasized spirituality and tended to neglect development of the body. That’s why the Indians came up with yoga to conform to their religious beliefs. Yoga developed by Hindu priests is characterized by discipline, meditation and strives to bring together and personally develop the body, mind, and spirit. Through observing and mimicking the movement and patterns of animals, priests hoped to achieve the same balance with nature that animals seemed to possess. Yoga enthusiasts say the health benefits include proper organ functioning and whole well-being.


Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as in ancient Greece. They believed development of the body was equally as important as that of the mind. One of the equipments invented for exercising at that time was the dumbbell. It has its roots from the halteres, a weight training gadget that was crescent shaped with a handle. Over the years they evolved to the current dumbells named so because of the use of church bells at that time to train arms and the upper body. The bell clappers that make noise were removed thus the name dumbells. Besides lifting weight they were also used for long jump. Today they are one of the basic training equipments made of two equal weights held together by a metal bar. They tone as well as do muscle and weight training.

Ancient dumbells


Now relegated to a schoolyard game, tug-of-war once was a respectable sport played by grown men. The sport puts two teams lined up along opposite ends of a thick rope and pulled against each other. To win, a team had to pull its opponent six feet forward. Despite such simplicity of design, tug of war was practiced both as a competition and as a form of exercise. From the ancient Egyptians who were first associated with this sport (due to the presence of artwork in a tomb depicting 3 men each tugging against each other), this practice was carried over to the Congo, New Zealand, Korea, Indonesia India and New Guinea among other countries.

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