Fitness Throughout History- The Renaissance and a Renewed Interest in the Body and Mind

Welcome back to the history of fitness throughout the ages! Today we will explore fitness during the Renaissance (1400-1600 AD). The Renaissance is perhaps most famous for prolific artists and philosophers, such as Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, and Rene Descartes. However, did you know that this time period is also famous for a renewed interest in the human body and fitness?

After the Middle Ages, all throughout Europe, there was a rebirth of cultural learning, and a resurgence of the ideals once made popular by ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The Renaissance is a time period well known for the rediscovery of arts, classic literature, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy, and is credited with bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and modern-day civilization. Because of the newly found interest in what was once made popular in ancient Greece and Rome, there was also a renewed interest in the well-being of the human body. 

Even famous artists such as da Vinci studied human anatomy, incorporating it into much of his work. Around 1533 a French doctor named Ambroise Pare invented surgical tools, and later in his career, set up a school for midwives. Antiseptics were not used yet, and many surgeries were abandoned as a common practice at the time due to infection rates, but he did pave the way for modern day surgeries. Doctors across Europe focused on understanding the human body, something that had not been done for hundreds of years, and were able to give common people advice on how to stay healthy. 

Which brings us to how physical exercise was viewed during this time period! Although many common practices during the Renaissance are now considered common sense (because we understand how the cardiovascular system works, and therefore know concretely that exercise is good for your heart, lungs, and overall bodily health), at the time scientists were still exploring human anatomy, and did not understand how everything in the body worked together. It is impressive then, that so many scientists and educators agreed that exercise was important, even without understanding exactly why. Even individuals such as Martin Luther and John Locke believed in the power of physical fitness and maintained that it led to higher levels of intellectual learning. 

It makes sense then, that physical activity was brought back into school programs for the first time since the ancient gymnasiums of Greece. Walking, running, and generally staying active were encouraged for everyone. When the weather was bad, students were encouraged to go up and down staircases rapidly, jump around, and use heavy sticks to practice sword fighting. Physical education was taught throughout Europe, and there was a distinct focus on exercise not just for sport, but for the overall wellbeing of the individual, something which was also lost to the Middle Ages. 

People during the Renaissance understood how important cardiovascular health was without understanding the science behind it. Here at Fit, we do understand why it is so important to incorporate cardio into your workouts, and we are here and waiting to help you find fun and new ways to get your recommended amount of cardio!