Movements for the development of the body and for the prevention and cure of disease were known and practised in the most ancient times in all countries. We find gymnastic exercises forming a part of the religion of the ancients. The great heroes of antiquity either instituted, restored, or took part in them. Poets made them the theme of their verses; and so, by immortalizing not only themselves but their victors whose fame they celebrated, they animated the Greek and Roman youth to tread in similar steps. Such exercises were then indispensable, the use of fire-arms being at that time unknown. The body required to be strengthened, and health to be confirmed and inured to fatigue. Contests were generally decided in close fight, by strength of body. Hence the origin of gymnasia, where the science of movement, as it were, was taught, and which were always dedicated to Apollo, the god of physicians. The Greeks owed much of their mental greatness to these exercises. They formed one of the three great parts into which all education was divided, and this branch was the more important in that it did not cease at a certain period but was continued through life. The Greek effort in education seems to have been directed to the attainment of a sound mind in a sound body, and it was on this account that their physicians and philosophers placed well-regulated exercises as of first importance. We know that the officers of these institutions were recognised as physicians. Exercises of all kinds, such as walking, dry-rubbing or friction, wrestling, etc., were a few of the common aids of physic, as they were termed by Asclepiades, who did so much to bring them into repute. The term athlelae might most appropriately be applied to the Chinese Tauist priests, the Greek word athlos, from which it is derived, being similar in meaning to kung-fu. In other respects, however, they resemble more closely the Agonistae, who followed gymnastics solely with the view of improving their health and strength; and who, although they sometimes contended in the public games, did not devote their whole lives, like the Athletae, to preparing for these contests.

Gymnastics became a part of medicine shortly before the time of the "Father of Medicine;" and, according to Plato, as a means of counteracting the bad effects of increasing luxury and indulgence. It soon passed into a complete system, as already indicated. The gymnasia were often connected with the temple services in Greece where chronic ailments, through bodily exercises, baths, and ointments, could be cured. AEsculapius came to be considered the inventor of bodily exercises. Plato styles two of these Greek gymnasts, who cured disease, the inventors of medical gymnastics, Iccus of Tarentum and Herodicus of Selymbra. The latter in particular made use of them for medical purposes, which is the reason he is considered to have been the first inventor of this art. Plato relates that the latter was himself ill, and sought what gymnastic exercises might conduce to his recovery. He gained his object, after which he recommended the same method to others. Before his time, dietetics was the chief part of medicine. It was he who advised his patients to undertake the journey from Athens to Megara, a distance of 180 stadia, equal to 6 German miles, and back. Hippocrates, who was one of his pupils and superintended the exercises in his palaestra, tells us that Herodicus cured fevers by walking and wrestling, and that many found the dry fomentations did them harm. In consumption, he advised the patients to suck women's milk from the breasts, a practice found existing in China at the present day among the old and debilitated. Galen mentions Premigenes, who was great in the peripatetic theory and wrote on gymnastics.

Other ancient nations besides Greece and Rome seem to have been early convinced of the importance of a knowledge of the means of preserving health. Among the Hindu legislators, we find laws enacted with this object; and, with the view of enforcing them and making them obligatory, we see them joined on to religion, just as in China we find similar precepts extensively pervading their sacred books. The Chinese, like the Hindus, have quite a large number of works on the means of retaining health. These have reference to climate, seasons, time of the day, food, bathing, anointing, clothing, housing, sleep, etc. Exercise receives always a high place in all such works; for it increases strength, prolongs life, prevents and cures disease by equalising the humours, prevents fatness, and renews and increases the power of resistance. In the Book of Rites (1,000 B.C.), we find archery and horsemanship laid down in the curriculum of study to be pursued at the National University. At the present day in China, besides the exercises involved in Kung-fu, the various exercises that prevail in Europe are practised publicly and privately by all classes, especially by the Mantchus, and to a much larger extent than among ourselves. Our present mode of warfare has done much to put an end to gymnastics as a part of education and a means conducive to robust health. The ancients may have esteemed them too highly, just as the moderns neglect them too much. True philosophy points to the golden mean as the place where truth is to be found. There are evils from inactivity as well as evils from excessive exercise; but gymnastics, when practised under proper control, must be invaluable in ensuring good health, a clear intellect, and in curing many complaints. Preventive medicine is coming every year more and more to the front, and gaining more attention and importance. The present age seems to be more alive to the importance of gymnastics than any preceding age of modern times. We find them introduced by enlightened teachers into many of our schools and warmly advocated by many medical men. Treatises on this subject are published yearly. One author considers hygiene to be the most useful sphere of the physician, and he believes that the subordinate value of therapeutics may be proved by statistics. Another writer, also a German, speaks of gymnastics as the principal agent for the rejuvenescence of body and mind.