A short history of occupational fitness and health promotion

Prev Med. 1991 May;20(3):436-45. doi: 10.1016/0091-7435(91)90041-2.


The suggestion of a linkage between adequate exercise and occupational health dates back to Ramazzini's classical observations on cobblers and tailors. However, excessive hours of work at too high an intensity were of greater concern than increase of fitness or health promotion in the early phases of the industrial revolution. Loss of physical condition is a more recent phenomenon, and it can be traced to automation in industry and the home, progressive urbanization, and widespread use of the automobile. The Canadian government has seen worksite fitness and health promotion programs as convenient tactics to reverse this trend. Exercise programs apparently yield a healthier and more effective labor force, and major corporations have thus followed the government's lead in developing fitness and health promotional facilities as a part of personnel or occupational health departments. Some health economists have suggested a substantial return upon such investment, but most corporations still regard the promotion of fitness and a healthy lifestyle as an expression of good citizenship. Currently, unifocal fitness programs are being replaced by modular health programs that address a wide range of lifestyle issues, including nutrition, stress relaxation, cigarette addiction, and drug abuse. The purpose of the present brief review is to trace from a personal perspective the development of an interest in employee fitness as an important component of occupational health programs over the past 300 years. The linkage of this phenomenon to the changing human demands of the worksite will also be explored.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • England
  • Europe
  • Exercise
  • Health Promotion / history*
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Occupational Health / history*
  • United States