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Treadmills are one of the most popular pieces of workout equipment on the market today. Over 51 million people in the United States use one. But did you know treadmills were first use in a jail? To keep prisoners busy?
The earliest known reference to a treadmill dates back to 1st century AD Rome. Seneca, the Roman philosopher wrote about a device used for grinding corn. Powered by man or animal walking on an endless belt, it “mechanised” effort.
The first treadmills for human use appeared in the late 18th century. William Cubit a civil engineer installed a treadmill in the Brixton prison in London. Prisoners used it to keep prisoners busy for up to ten hours a day. As a form of punishment. So if getting on a treadmill feels like punishment why are you surprised? You share feelings with prisoners from the past.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that treadmills started being used for exercise. In 1847, doctor William Kitchiner invented the “electromechanical” treadmill. It was designed to help people tone their muscles. Improvement in cardiovascular health was another goal. These early treadmills were large and bulky, and not very practical for home use.
In the 20th century that treadmills became more compact and affordable. Over time they evolved to become the commercial models available for gym or home use. You could now vary the gradient, speed, track your heart rate and even project your effort onto a track.
But someone would ask, what is the point of walking on a treadmill. Isn’t it a little silly to be walking all that distance. Without actually reaching anywhere? Before we became victims of urbanisation, humankind would walk everywhere. To hunt, meet each other, farm or find food. Meeting any walking goals happened without effort. Today, perhaps a treadmill is the only way to meet our walking goals.
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