100 Years of Exercise

100 Years of Exercise

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”

This was said by the philosopher Marcus Cicero in 65 BC.

Throughout history, exercise has been something that has evolved with us. So, today it’s time to look at how we have gone from bath house to zumba class.

Exercise in Ancient Greece

The first gymnasiums date back to 300 BC. The greeks would use the gymnasiums to train for competitions and games, as well as to socialize. Most gyms had a long grass expanse outside the walls of the gym for the purpose of running. Once inside, one could practice wrestling, go take a bath, or socialize. (So, if you’re like me and sometimes you just go to the gym to get in the sauna…these are your kind of people). FUN FACT: We get the word gymnasium from the greek word gymnos which actually means naked. Which was the dress code at the gym back then.

Exercise in the Middle Ages

We see the english word gymnast for the first time in history in 1594. However this doesn’t have the same meaning as the word does now. Back then, this word meant trainer. Exercising in the middle ages was more about hard labor than it was about socializing and competing in games. With industries starting to rise as well as increased travel opportunities, you pretty much got your 30 minutes in a day just by going to work. If you want to check out a hilarious and pretty accurate Medieval workout (and diet) plan, you can see one here!

The Women’s League of Health and Beauty

The Women’s League of Health and Beauty is primarily the first big push for what we now call a health club or a gym. This was started in 1930 in the UK and grew to over 150,000 members in less than 10 years.

In 1949 scientists were able to start scientifically linking exercise to overall physical and mental wellness. This included being able to assess the physical activity of different social classes and determine their risk of heart attack. For example, in 1954 they proved people with a more sedentary job were more likely to succumb to heart attack than others with much more physically demanding jobs.

Exercise in the 1930’s and 1940’s

Exercise at health clubs was a lot different than it is now. Stretching was popularized as a good workout plan in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This is largely due to the fact that lots of people were still extremely active within the home. Not everyone had a car, so walking to places was still a main mode of transportation. We also had jobs that still required lots of hard labor.

Exercise in the 1950’s

In the 1950’s we start to see a shift to more of a light exercise in the form of light physical activity. Enter the hoola-hoop. This fun hoop could be used at home and would help keep up that poodle skirt and leather jacket bod.

Exercise in the 1960’s 

The “twist board” has arrived! This is a board you could get in your home that you would stand on and twist your body around – like the dance move. This started to become more common with the rise of technology – people using their cars more, and industry making the switch from manual labor to technology based operating systems.

Exercise in the 1970’s

In invention of exercise equipment emerges. Whether you want to shake the weight off with a belt or hop on the ab lounger, the 1970’s mark the start of workouts that require gym equipment. You can check out some of these ridiculous products here!

Exercise in the 1980’s

Break out the leotard and get ready for some aerobics! The 1980’s are famous for tights, leg warmers, and a sweat band to keep your perm out of the way. With a push towards more of a beauty focus – aerobics was a high cardio workout designed to shed pounds.


Exercise in the 1990’s

Lifting weights becomes more and more popular for men as body building starts to gain some traction. Getting a gym membership also starts to sky rocket at this point. Busy Americans return to their ancient roots and meet up at the gym for exercise and for a social setting. The incorporation of the sauna at the gym also starts to come back into play.

Present Day Exercise

Fitness today can be whatever you want it to be. Lots of gyms offer different classes like Zumba, yoga, or cycling classes. Weight lifting is still a popular form of exercise today too. We also have a more holistic approach to fitness with focus on not only nutrition, but also how the mind has to stay healthy too.

Me in Zumba class.

Me in Zumba class.

The main thing to remember about exercise is to do what you love at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to do anything that fits in with what the “trends” say. Just remember to get out and get active for at least 30 minutes a day. Whether you’re stretching, using a twisty board, or out in the yard running with the kids, let your history of exercise move along with your life.

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