Adapted physical activity has a long tradition.
The statement healthy sole in a healthy body comes from the roman 1st century ac (Mens sana in corpe sano: Junius Juvenalis, 65-127).
Many consider the Swedish gymnast Per Henrik Ling (1776 - 1839) to be the father of the medical influence into physical activity. Ling, a fencing master with a disabled arm, studied the effects of exercise on his own rehabilitation and subsequently developed the system of exercise known as medical gymnastics. Ling’s theory of movement divided exercise into four branches: medical, educational, military and esthetical. He started the Central Institute of Gymnastics in Stockholm, Sweden (CIG), where his teaching and careful selection of personnel attracted physicians from all parts of the western world.
Ling was the first to apply anatomy and physiology scientifically in the development of a systematic exercise system for prevention and treatment of physical defects and disease (Sherrill, 1993). Ling’s system emphasized specific movements for each part of the body performed to the command of the instructor. („Ready? - One, two, three...“) The purpose extended beyond rehabilitation and embraced the concepts of health, control and bodily perfection. Each muscle group should be exercised daily in a particular order, where the degree of difficulty, for example the progression should be adapted to the individual need and ability of the patient. The use of equipment was possible but not imperative. Stall bars, climbing ladders, poles, ropes, balancing boards and an exercise table where among the apparatus recommended by Ling.
Ling, as a former athlete didn’t have a medical specialization, but through subsequent directors of CIG who were physicians or students of medicine the medical influences on the system of rehabilitative gymnastics increased. Such leaders were Branting and Hartelius. Ling’s son Hjalmar first merged the medical emphasis of CIG with educational elements and by 1880 CIG courses were both offered in medical and educational gymnastics. Courses required one year of studies.
This major development accompanied the development of the "Turnvereine" in Germany after Jahn. The German-Swedish tradition was imported into the USA where it furtehr developed in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century.
At the middle of the 20th century another major development occurred, with the establishment of the department for spinal cord injured under the leadership of Prof. Guttmann, a German Jew immigrating to Stoke Mandeville, England after the raise of Nazi Germany.
Guttmann was famous for his statement that his most important achievement throughout his medical career was the inclusion of sports and physical activity into the rehabilitation program of individuals with spinal cord injury and other disabilities.
In 1977 The International Federation of Adapted Physically Activity was formed in Canada, providing an international forum for participation and information exchange for experts in the area.
One of the most widely cited definitions of APA is of current IFAPA President Prof. Claudine Sherrill
„APA is an interdisciplinary body of knowledge directed toward the identification and solution of psychomotor problems throughout the total life span ... advocacy of sport and exercise for all persons ... attitudes, skills and habits that will facilitate social integration of persons with disability with family members and significant others (Sherrill, 1990).“
APA derives its meaning directly from the term Adapted Physical Education first brought up in the early 1950s when the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Dance published guidelines for school physical education for disabled children and recommended a name change from Correctives to Adapted Physical Education.
APE was a term that was prescribed to the disability related community and associated with federal funding in a school setting only. Twenty years later scholars started promoting a change of perspective involving all individuals with disabilities from birth to old age, who were excluded from state funding before. Education stood for a school background, so it was changed to the more comprehensive term activities. A synopsis of the job opportunity in APE is given by the American national clearinghouse for professional in special education.
The change from Adapted Physical Education to Adapted Physical Activities came through the change from programming for educational purposes namely schoolchildren only to a broader life span perspective. There has been discussion about this choice in terminology because APA is hardly translatable into other languages. Worldwide the term best known in the field of movement activities for the disabled is Psychomotorik, or psychomotor activity, which is a historic term also. It is a term first introduced by the Russian child psychologist Oseretzki whose name still appears in some motor tests. But the body of knowledge resembled under Psychomotorik is different to that of APA.
One of the best well known contributors to psychomotor activity in central Europe is Ernst J. Kiphard, who has labeled this field of study:
Motor Pedagogy or
In Berlin, at the 7th International Symposium of the International Federation of APA (IFAPA) it was decided after lengthy and intense discussions to use the term APA because no translation seemed to be fully adequate.
Gudrun Doll-Tepper and colleagues attempted to define APA in a multinational perspective:
„APA refers to movement, physical activity and sports in which special emphasis is placed on the interests and capabilities of individuals with limiting conditions, such as the disabled, health impaired or aged (Doll-Tepper, et al., 1990).“