The Evolution of Exercise

yoga on ball

Any physical movement is called an exercise. It is defined as a set of definite movements done by a person; young or old, not necessarily with the help of a trainer; in a stipulated time to achieve and reap its benefits including fun. You can exercise at home, at your office, outdoors, or play sports, engage in all kinds of dance, weight-training, martial arts, aerobics, yoga, meditation or pranayam and much more.

People have been exercising for ages in the form of hard labour and strenuous physical chores. In the fact, history of fitness activities such as martial arts (karate, Judo, tai kwondo, tai chi), swimming, yoga and running began thousands of years ago. History of exercising dates back to the birth of human race. Although earlier men may have not realized they were exercising when they ran for their lives from wild beasts.

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, mentioned about right amount of exercise being an important component of good health. his thoughts were shared by other famous thinkers, Aulus Cornelius Celsus (circa 25 BC-AD 50), a Roman encyclopaedist, known for his medical work and Claudius Galenus (AD 130-201), popularly known as Galen who was a prolific writer, scientist, and physician to the gladiators. Galen wrote down the Laws of Health, in which he attributed exercise as a stepping stone to good health.

A few centuries later Hieronymus Mercurialis, an Italian physician, wrote De arte Gymnastica apud ancientes (The Art of Gymnastics among the Ancients, AD 1530) that showed the importance of Galen’s view of health and the importance of science in training and exercise. The practices of building muscles, agility and strength dates back to 9-11th centuries when combats and wars were a regular occurrence in Rome, Greece and India. In fact, the discovery of stone dumbbell weights in India and other similar artefacts from Europe point to such a possibility.

Exercise Emerged in India

History of exercise physiology begins with Hippocrates and the ‘Golden Age’ of Greece and Rome. Before and during the Mycenaean cultures, exercise contributions became known from the ancient civilizations of India. In the earlier times, spirituality superceded the pursuit of fitness. The importance of fitness in the minds of people was not as much. And yet an exercise regimen similar to Chinese Kung Fu gymnastics was developed. Incidentally, Yoga was in compliance with the religious belief of people. It is believed that Yoga has existed since the past 5,000 years.

Sushruta, a 600 BC physician, included exercise in his prescriptions to prevent and treat diseases. He promoted exercise to minimize the consequences of obesity and diabetes. According to Sushruta, to be effective, exercise in moderation should be performed daily and should never exceed the half-maximum limit for exhaustion, because disease or even death could ensue.

Sushruta defined exercise as a “sense of weariness from bodily labour and it should be taken everyday”. He suggested moderate exercise that would merely cause labored breathing.The various personal factors unique to an individual such as his age , food consumption and physical composition was studies and considered before a recommendation on the nature of exercise to be performed was prescribed.

The Development of Exercise Physiology

In the early years of exercise physiology, people tried to discover the ‘fire of life’. Exercise science progressed with ‘calorimetery’—the study to show how muscles contract and conversion of energy from food to movement muscles. In the 18th century, exercise became streamlined and efficient workout routines were designed. It was during this time that aerobics, weight-lifting, weight-training, running, and other similar conventional exercise forms evolved and gymnasiums and fitness centres became popular. The new wave of scientific justification for exercise was established.

The newer developments and innovations in exercise science picked up a frantic pace in the 19th century. People began to look into their lifestyles and diet. New fitness regime began replacing the conventional ones. The 20th century saw several newer methods, gadgets and equipment with the advent of improved technology—the treadmill, exercise bikes, rovers, chest and shoulder presses, leg extension machines and butterfly machines.

We are into the 21st century and health awareness has increased. Media, television have made their own contributions towards fitness. The Internet revolution has made people fitness savvy. The wheels of exercise have started rolling today and people are finding ways and means to keep fit through exercise.

yoga pose against mountains

Stretching before an exercise can help minimize injuries.

Here is an interesting story. Dr Kenneth H. Copper, an exercise physiologist of the U.S. Air Force and NASA, while water skiing at the age of 29, felt breathless and thought that he was having a heart attack. The doctors at the hospital told him that he was merely out of shape having gained 20 kg and inactivity. This incidence catapulted the young doctor to lose weight and run his first marathon in Boston, USA.

Now being an exercise enthusiast, Dr Cooper was puzzled that some people with good muscular strength were poor at long-distance running, swimming or bicycling. He began his research by measuring systematic performance of individuals using a bicycle ergo-meter in terms of the ability to utilize oxygen. He wrote his first bestseller Aerobics in the year 1968. This was the newest concept in the field of exercise science. The book included scientific exercise programs using running, walking, swimming and bicycling. Dr Cooper’s data provided the scientific baseline for almost all modern aerobics programmes most of which are based on oxygen consumption equivalency.

Today, modern life has endowed us with inactivity, processed foods and stress make our bodies sluggish and more prone to disease. Humans have this unique physical (p), mental (M), emotional (E) and spiritual (S)—the P-M-E-S connection. The moment you become sluggish it reflects on your mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being.

Fortunately, today, we all have become health conscious and there is a general awareness amongst people regarding health and fitness. There is a growing emphasis today on looking good and living longer. Those days have gone when you used to spend your days in sedentary jobs and yours evenings as ‘couch potatoes’ in front of the TV.

Exercise is not meant for looking sweaty like those models on TV commercials nor is it for those bulging muscles bursting out of your clothes. Exercise is not just for sports champions, super models and movie stars! No matter how ‘out of shape’ we are or what age we are in; we can all try to be fit. But making the decision to include some form of regular exercise into our lifestyle may require supreme effort and determination.

All the medical and scientific evidence today suggests that regular exercise is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of achieving these aims. You exercise to look and feel better and to live a longer and healthier life. You are never too young, too old, too unfit or too overweight to get started on an exercise programme. In fact, regular physical activity is the key to a leaner, fitter and more contented individual, regardless of age, gender or role in life. Who would not want to look trimmer, slimmer and have a well-toned body?

There are many exercise enthusiasts who indulge in rigorous workout but then there are others who need a little push to discover the health benefits of exercising and yes, the fun of exercising. So, this is the right time to get into an exercise routine for it is cool to be fit. Exercise helps keep both your body and mind healthy. Interestingly, everyone benefits from exercise even those with chronic disease and those without. Moreover, exercise helps prevent the onset of chronic illness, disability and premature death from diseases, especially those, which are heart related.

Nearly everyone young and old alike can benefit from some level of exercise, even those with chronic disease, and those without. What you need to know is to learn the science behind exercising—how to choose the right type of exercise suitable for you and most importantly how to stick to it. Also, how much of exercise is too much, is a very confusing question. What with so many exercise programmes, which ones would you choose if you suffer from cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, asthma, respiratory problems, diabetes etc.? Before beginning any exercise program, go through this articles published on this website and your doctor can give you additional guidance.

I have no time, I have so many things to do”, has got to change. Impress on your mind that exercise is as good as food for your body—muscles, bone ligaments, joints, internal organs and brain. So what’s stopping you from exercising? Shed that old laziness and get back in action!

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