The Winding Path of Measurement of the Body’s Responses to Exercise: Past, Present, and Future

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Carol Ewing Garber Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Program in Movement Sciences (Applied Physiology), Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

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This paper traces the path of the role of exercise in promoting health and the emergence of scientific study of the physiology of exercise from ancient times through modern times. Ancient physician–philosophers taught that exercise was important for health and employed exercise to control diseases such as diabetes and obesity, to offset the effects of aging, and for military preparedness. By the early modern era, the first books on exercise had been published, and the start of the use of exercise for therapy, rehabilitation, and occupational medicine emerged. Philosopher scientists proposed and applied experimental methods as early as the Middle Ages, and the scientific method was further developed during the early modern period. Experiments about the physiological responses to exercise began in the middle of the 19th century. The application of innovative research methods resulted in exponential gains in knowledge about the physiology of exercise throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

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