Fitness History – United States (1700 – 1860) Part 8

united states colonial period 1700

United States – Colonial Period (1700 – 1776)

united states colonial period 1700

Trials of colonial life ensured regular physical activity, however, during this period exercise programs or fitness programs didn’t exist. United States were an undeveloped country with a large portion of unexplored land with uninhabited regions. Lifestyle during this era was for plowing the land for crops, hunting for food and herding cattle. This lifestyle provided a sufficient level of physical activity to maintain a good physical condition.

United States – National Period (1776 – 1860)

united states national period 1776

Fitness in the United States during the national period was influenced by European cultures. Immigrants brought several aspects of their heritage in the United States, including gymnastics from Germany and Sweden. The invasion by foreign countries were a constant threat to the independence and nationalism countries. This dynamic was common in Europe but not in the United States. German and Swedish gymnastics programs have failed to achieve the same levels of popularities as in Europe.

However, the first leaders of the United States were aware of the need to exercises and fitness. Benjamin Franklin recommended regular physical activities including running, swimming and basic exercises of resistance training to have good health. President Thomas Jefferson recognized the need of fitness but perhaps in a extreme measure : « Not less than 2 hours per day should be dedicated to fitness, no matter the weather. If the body is weak, the mind will not be a strong ».

The beginnings of physical education in the United States

As for Europe, schools were an important way to spread the necessity of fitness in society through physical education programs. However in the United States, the educational process focused primarily on intellectual matters. Schools focused on teaching traditional subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Physical education has remained absent from the public education system for most of the 19th century. Despite the lack of interest in fitness during this period, J.-C. Warren and Catherine Beecher have made significant contributions to the future of fitness in the United States.

Dr. J.-C. Warren, a medical professor at Harvard University was an important supporter of physical activity. Warren medical experiences have given him a clear understanding of necessity for regular exercise, his recommendations included German and Swedish gymnastic exercises. In addition, Warren began developing exercises for women. Catherine Beecher developed fitness programs specifically to meet the needs of women. Among its many different fitness program, there was a gym program done with music. Although not officially recognized by the name, Beecher’s programs of the mid 19th century are much like actual aerobics.

That’s all for today. Soon the rest of the fitness history

-Steph