When Was Exercise Invented?

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With new health benefits being discovered almost every day, you may wonder when was exercise invented? Certainly, it wasn't always the necessary activity for physical fitness when household duties provided enough exercise.

Changes in Health

Doing activity beyond the normal everyday chores did not have a place in many people's lives decades ago. People did not have the benefit of remote controls, front-loading washers, or in some cases, even reliable roads to get around. You walked to school. You shoveled your own driveway. In short, physical activity was the standard of the day.

For that, people were leaner than today when two out of three Americans are overweight, in part due to inactivity. However, the trend in health changes occurred years earlier. In 1949, British health researchers investigated a strange surge in heart attacks in different occupations.

Research showed that people in more active jobs had fewer heart attacks. Jerry Morris, one of the primary researchers, published these findings in the November 1953 issue of Lancet (262(6795): 1053-1057) where he showed a link between coronary heart disease and physical activity. This provided the foundation that determined when was exercise invented.

History of Exercise

The link between disease and exercise was groundbreaking for its time. The benefits of exercise had been known since the days of the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates wrote of the benefits in 400 B.C. as a way to ensure good health.

War provided the necessary physical evidence. Soldiers who trained performed better. The connection was evident in the writings of Leonardo da Vinci and others of the Renaissance. Training become part of the routine for military training during World War I and II.


Exercise, of course, exists in different forms. What is now known as strength training began to take shape during the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Men with well-developed physiques became part of the carnival circuit. It took on a more serious side with bodybuilding competitions.

This era marked a change in perception of the human body. The appearance of a well-trained individual was valued and praised. It is a legacy which continues into the present day with the likes of individuals such as Arnold Schwarzenegger who created the muscle man brand.

Aerobic Exercise

Bodybuilding might have risen out of necessity unrelated to health. Aerobic exercise had a different focus. Again, the military provided part of the impetus for change. Physical strength benefited soldiers, but aerobic endurance was also crucial. Troops encountered situations where they were forced to travel great distances over land, carrying weapons which added to their load.

The 1968 publication of Kenneth Cooper's book, Aerobics, revolutionized how people viewed exercise. Cooper developed his own point system where you can evaluate your activity. Drawing on his own military background, he brought exercise to the forefront at a time when boons in technology would usher in a more sedentary lifestyle.

When Was Exercise Invented?

The concept of exercise was not invented. Rather, the reasons behind being more active changed dramatically. No longer was an evening walk just an opportunity to take in the air. It was a chance to engage in cardio activity and burn calories.

Fad exercise programs sprang up by the dozens as people began embracing the benefits which exercise provided. Programs such as Jazzercise introduced a fun way to improve your aerobic endurance. Celebrities and fitness gurus alike offered their own take on exercise and its place in your life.

Exercise and Health

An important adjunct to the rise of exercise programs and awareness was the growing body of research suggesting that exercise could prevent chronic disease. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Clinical Practice (64(13): 1731-1734) found that regular exercise could reduce your risk of developing some 25 different health conditions based on a review of current research.

Yet, despite the health benefits, exercise once again finds itself in the background. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (39(4): e13-e20) found that only five percent of respondents regularly engaged in vigorous exercise on any given day. Clearly, a revolution in thought is needed.

If you think about when was exercise invented, you see that it arose out of necessity. Evidence of its benefits as well as its role in life expectancy can pave the way for a renewal of the enthusiasm surrounding the benefit of exercise for good health.

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When Was Exercise Invented?