By Fitness Expert Samir Becic
Since the beginning of time, humanity has depended on athletic prowess. “Survival of the fittest” was especially crucial throughout history and the evolution and humankind.
Throughout the prehistoric ages, man used his body as a tool for hunting and gathering and survival. Today, although man is no longer driven to physical extremes in order to sustain life in the primitive sense, the modern man uses fitness to encompass health and well-being. It is important to understand the evolution of health and fitness to mankind throughout the ages to fully comprehend its fundamental necessity in today’s society and the foundation to the modern fitness movement.
From the time of the primitive man until about 2500 B.C. athleticism was used as a necessary tool for hunting and gathering. As time progressed towards the birth of Jesus, fitness was not solely used for sustainability but became necessary in order to maintain the biggest empires in the world, through military strength.
Some of the biggest ancient empires in the world, including: Persian empire, Macedonian empire, and Roman empire were built on an extremely fitness oriented mentality. Physical fitness was of the number one importance to ensure the strength and longevity of their empires. It is of no surprise that all of them collapsed because of deterioration of physical fitness with the birth of extravagant lifestyles.
The Greek-Macedonian Empire is still today regarded as one of the fittest empires to date. In Greece, the Spartans were and still are viewed as the personification of extreme athleticism. Because of this, the Spartan army was one of the deadliest armies the world has ever known.
By contrast, the Chinese and Indian empires used athleticism not only for military purposes but also for health. Their political and philosophical leaders, including Confucius were encouraging people to partake in exercise in order to prevent certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes. They discovered that through yoga and martial arts, they not only became fitter, but also healthier- this was the crucial breakthrough in the history of mankind. For the first time, fitness became a known to cure many physical ailments.
During the Renaissance period, an intellectual expansion occurred, so did a curriculum of physical fitness and philosophy. Many intellectual thinkers of the time, such as John Locke, Martin Luther, and Richard Mulcaster maintained the positive correlation between being fit and intellect.
After the Renaissance came the National period in Europe, which was marked by the first modern movement of gymnastics. This came at a time when nationalism was prevalent in Europe which inspired many gymnastic experts to develop their own programs.
– Germany: Johann Guts Muths and Friedrich Jahn believed that through gymnastic programs, Germans could be fitter and more resilient against foreign invasion.
– Sweden: Per Henrik Ling developed gymnastic programs for educational, military, and medical use.
– Denmark: Frank Nachtegall spread gymnastic programs throughout the school systems.
– England: Archibald Maclaren spread the benefits of fitness and regular exercise to breed a healthier and stronger youth.
– America: based its methods on the popular European training styles of the time. Benjamin Franklin was a strong proponent of maintain regular exercise for health purposes.
The industrialization period in the U.S. and Europe was marked by a more sedentary lifestyle and an increase in deaths due to the increase of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Type II Diabetes. This was a significantly important as proof that physical inactivity was strongly correlated with an increase of diseases and illnesses.
In the early 20th Century, we noticed a new movement in gymnastics and general fitness throughout the western world. Western world leaders urged and encouraged their citizens to be physically active for the purpose of national security and the health of their nations.
During the roaring Twenties comfort and fun was put ahead of exercise and fitness became viewed as less important. Soon after that, the Great Depression hit, and fitness continued to be less emphasized than the growing financial crisis. Therefore, a general lack of health became a growing trend during this time period.
With this being said, we can clearly see throughout history that there is a correlation between lack of physical fitness and economical decline.
The Modern fitness movement, as we know it today, evolved from the military competition between the nations during WWII and the cold war. It was becoming clear that men were not physically fit to serve their countries in military service during the draft. The people that developed the new fitness movement were visionaries such as Jack Lalanne, who is regarded as the father of American Fitness. Presidents like John F. Kennedy were strong believer in being fit for health, emphasizing fitness as the “basis for all other forms of excellence.”
Being in the health and fitness industry my entire life, and working for the biggest fitness corporation in the world at the time, I witnessed major changes in how people view fitness and healthy lifestyle today versus 15 years ago. The Health and Fitness Revolution is happening and healthy lifestyle will be a major force and grow to epic proportions in the health industry of tomorrow.
In the 21st Century, fitness, proper nutrition and spiritual balance will be the basic fundamental of healthy living and will make a major impact on how we view the health industry. In the next 10 to 20 years, these components will become even more significant and will change how being fit and healthy lifestyle is viewed in the health and medical industry. There is a famous Latin saying “historia est magistra vitae” which suggests that history is life’s teacher. Holding this true, we should acknowledge that economical prosperity and national security are dependent on the physical health of a nations’ population and that with physical activity, healthy nutrition, and spiritual balance we can manage, control, or completely avoid 60-70 % of known illnesses.
*This article is based on the research of the University of New Mexico by Lance C. Dalleck, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
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