10 Milestones in Fitness History

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It’s easy to take for granted the fact that we value exercise. Through the years, there has been a long-standing debate about the effectiveness and importance of leading an active lifestyle. Let's take a little trip back in time to revisit important moments that helped shape our perspective on exercise.

10 milestones that made us look more favorably upon fitness:

1. 2,500 B.C.

Hindu priests created yoga by “observing and mimicking animal behaviors” to achieve the same balance with nature that animals seemed to possess. The word yoga means “union,” referencing the Hindu philosophy of uniting body, mind and spirit.

Historical context: This was approximately the same period that Stonehenge was built in Wiltshire, England.

2. 400 B.C.

The Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine,” arguing for an active lifestyle to improve health. Underscoring the importance of exercise, he stated: “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

Historical context: The catapult was invented by Greek engineers.

3. 400 C.E.

The powerful Roman Empire emphasized military training that improved physical fitness to prepare for battle.

Historical context: A riot broke out in Constantinople and the Great Palace was burned to the ground.

4. 590 C.E.

Pope Gregory I formalized the common list of Seven Deadly Sins, which included sloth, or physical laziness. Evil exists, it was argued, when good men fail to act. Many years later, the deadly sins were the inspiration for the thriller Se7en, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

Historical context: Buddhist monk Jajang was born in what is now South Korea. At the time, the king repeatedly requested he take a position in the court, and Jajang refused. The king warned him, “If you do not accept this official position I offer, I will have your head severed for disobedience." Jajang maintained his stance and the king relented, allowing Jajang to remain a monk.

5. 1896

Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games, with 14 countries participating. The summer competition included 43 events across nine sports.

Historical context: Utah became the 45th U.S. state.

6. 1940s

Dr. Thomas K. Cureton, Jr., a physical fitness research pioneer, dubbed “The Father of Physical Fitness,” conducted studies whose findings were critical to the development of future workout programs. According to the NIH website, he “develop[ed] fitness tests for cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility.”

Historical context: The United Nations, NATO, and State of Israel were all established.

7. 1961

President John F. Kennedy bolstered national awareness of the importance of fitness by introducing The President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Kennedy was a big proponent of physical activity, and wrote an article in Sports Illustrated, entitled “The Soft American,” in which he said, “We are under-exercised as a nation; we look instead of play; we ride instead of walk.”

Historical context: The following year, Kennedy gave his famous nation’s space effort speech at Rice University, where he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” In 1969, the U.S. had successfully landed on the moon, achieving the once seemingly impossible goal.

8. 1968

Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, recognized as “The Father of the Modern Fitness Movement,” published his first of 18 books, which have been credited with “motivating more people to exercise in pursuit of good health than any other person.” Dr. Cooper contended that “it is easier to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet and emotional balance than it is to regain it once it is lost."

Historical context: Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey to become the 37th president of the United States.

9. 1980s

Personal training got formal in the last quarter of the 20th century. Organizations, such as ACE, ACSM, and NSCA provided professional certifications for personal trainers, who took on the role of “combatants… to do battle with obesity and type 2 diabetes," according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Historical context: MTV was launched in the United States.

10. 2014

The 118th Boston Marathon took place with over one million people cheering on along the marathon route. American Meb Keflezighi won the race in 2:08:37. It was a momentous day for the city of Boston, taking place one year after the race was bombed and halted.

Historical context: This was last year.

We'd love to hear from you. What fitness milestone do you think had the biggest historical impact? Did we miss anything you think should be included on the list? Comment below or on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness, or tweet us at @flytefitness.

Be Flyte Fit,

Jeremy Greenberg

Co-Founder & CEO

Flyte Fitness