Through the ages, attitudes about the training and development of the body have been influenced by religious, political and social concepts.
Throughout history physical education in many countries has displayed several consistent purposes in that (1) physical education, it is said, reflects the very society that fosters it, (2) physical fitness for national survival has been a persistent theme throughout history, (3) physical activity has long been used in many societies to develop a solid community spirit and morale, and (4) sports and other forms of physical activity have been used as a basis for the development of vocational interests in skills. Various societies in different historical eras have contributed to the development and progress of physical education.
Primitive cultures placed central emphasis upon physical education as a basis for the improvement of everyday, practical living. Oriental cultures, though giving little emphasis to a program of exercise, are credited with preserving sport and dance as art, advancing the methodology of formal instruction, and envisioning the leisure time relevance of sport. Ancient Greece gave physical education a respected role in intellectual development and promoted an aesthetic ideal which dominated a national image. Ancient Rome used exercise for such instrumental purposes as training for war and for vicarious entertainment. The middle Ages saw knightly games and athletic competitions mainly for chivalric purposes. The Renaissance Period introduced an era of scientific progress in physiology and a return to a respected status for knowledge and appreciation of the human body. The Reformation and Puritanism saw the revival of military exercises and provided a more acceptable atmosphere for wholesome types of recreation and amusement through natural activities and creative expression.
Physical fitness is only one phase of total fitness. It does not include all of the aspects of mental, emotional, and social fitness. There are studies that show the interactions of one type of fitness upon others, such as the effect of mental, emotional, and social influences upon physical growth and functions, such as strength, endurance, flexibility, and neuromuscular coordination. One of the aims of physical education programs the world over is to improve the total fitness of youth and adults.