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In 2017, more people have signed up for a gym membership and are more active than at any point in history.  What has caused people to become more concerned about health and fitness more than ever in recent years? To answer that question, it’s important to understand the history of fitness and how it became a vital component to peoples’ lives today. 

Prehistoric Times: The creation of man 

Back when mankind was first born on Earth, man only had the resources around him. To survive, man had to possess agility, strength, defensive skills, ability to climb, throwing skills, and crawling skill. Man had no equipment like there is today to train or make their bodies stronger. The daily activities including fishing, hunting, building, and running from predators was a form of fitness. At this point, fitness was integrated with everyday life and not considered a separate activity.

Ancient Times: Who was the strongest?

The ancient times include periods such as ancient Chinese/Indian civilization, ancient Greek civilization, and the ancient Roman Empire. During these periods, fitness was regarded as a vital part of everyday life to fend off diseases. Even during the time period in which these empires prospered, physical training was required to expand the footprint of these empires. When the Chinese started to take their focus away from fitness and training to only maintaining their existing empire, it began to collapse.  During the Greek and Roman Empires, boys and men were required to go through extensive training daily including lifting and carrying heavy objects, weapons training, constant runs on ideal or nonideal terrain, wrestling or fighting with their bare hands, and throwing weapons such as javelins to be superior in physical fitness in comparison to their rivals. Even schools for the Greek and Roman empires implemented training and fitness into their education and if someone did not complete the fitness program, their education was not complete. Eventually, when both empires began to become more materialistic, both empires fell due to their lack of fitness. During this time period, fitness began to grow in popularity and competition within the members about who had more physical strength ensued. 

Medieval Times: The time of regression for fitness

During the years 400-1500 AC, the shift turned from fitness to Christianity. There was a major push on preparing one’s life for the afterlife, therefore there was no focus on physical health. In the early stages of the medieval times, the Romans were civilized across Europe even though their Empire came to a demise. As time continued, the physical education halted and fitness wasn’t a crucial part of everyday life for people. On the contrary, nearing the end of medieval times, Martin Luther introduced the concept of physical education improving learning. With this change, fitness started to gain more momentum for the average person. 

Industrial Revolution to Present: The resurgence of fitness

Before the industrial revolution and America became to exist, settlers had to use all their physical energy to gather food from fields, hunt, fish, and taking care of cattle. With so much physical labor, there was no need for a specific program to promote wellness. As time continued, prominent figures in history such as Benjamin Franklin encouraged physical activity with resistance. During the industrial revolution, the advancements in technology make jobs for workers easier, causing some jobs to be eliminated due to machines and less physical activity. This caused a spike in cancer and diabetes across America, causing presidents to act swiftly for their nation. President Theodore Roosevelt, known to be one of the fittest presidents in United States history, used his presidency to promote physical activity among Americans. Roosevelt himself has participated in numerous outdoor activities including hiking and horseback riding. 

President John Kennedy continued the work of Roosevelt, promoting even more physical activity among Americans and expanding on existing foundations such as the President’s council on Youth Fitness. However, one of the most prominent leaders in the modern fitness revolution is Dr. Ken H. Cooper. The idea behind his philosophy of fitness was disease prevention, not curing the disease. He developed a theory that if everyone did a bit of physical activity during the day, many diseases that are caused by a lack of exercise could be avoidable. 

In summation, while it is difficult to point to one single time where physical activity and fitness became so popular today, all these different events occurring help build a timeline for the fitness industry. Today we know now more than we did before the importance of physical activity. Not only is it important for preventing certain diseases, but it also leads to a healthier lifestyle that can prolong our life longer than our ancestors.