Who Invented Physical Fitness?
Physical fitness as a special discipline was unknown in times past. Men and women had to go out and get things just about all the time. So there was no need to invent activities just to stay fit. Primitive people (10,000 BC and earlier) for example, were always out hunting or gathering food, chasing (or running away from) wild animals, or moving to new territory. Things changed somewhat at around 8,000 BC when men first learned how to raise crops and keep farm animals. But their lives were still very active on the whole. It was only much later when human life became very sedentary that the concept of physical fitness began to arise.
At some point in time, people began to associate certain diseases with wrong or lack of physical exercise. It is here we can say that physical fitness has its first incarnation as a separate discipline. The oldest traces of references to physical fitness go back to around 2,500 BC in different regions. Foremost of these was Greece. It was the Greeks who invented both the Olympics and the gymnasiums. The Athenians idealized the human body and physical fitness so much that they held sports events regularly to celebrate it. Physical strength played an even bigger role in Sparta, but it was more for military purposes than anything else.
In China, the government and society were strongly influenced by Confucius’ ideas. Confucianism encouraged physical fitness for health as well as ethical reasons. The Chinese Taoists also had reasons to invent physical fitness: they wanted to extend life if not become immortal. So the Chinese developed exercise routines known as Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chi Kung and other names.
A similar development happened in ancient India. The mystic Hindus and Buddhists sought union or Yoga with the supreme being through meditation. They found that by controlling the breath, one also controlled the mind and emotions. This in itself had health benefits. But they went further and invented physical fitness exercises, known as Hatha Yoga. Hindu ascetics initially kept these methods to themselves. But gradually other people came to know about them too, using them for non-spiritual reasons. Today, yoga is a very popular form of physical fitness in the West.
Physical fitness has never been more important than in the modern age. On one hand people are inventing new ways to stay physically fit. There are all kinds of gym equipment and exercise videos out there. But on the other hand, some think older physical fitness systems like yoga and chi kung might have a lot to offer as well. In any event, physical fitness is quite relevant to our times even if it’s not a new idea.