Education, study and knowledge

What is Physiology? History and theoretical and practical bases

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Throughout the centuries, human beings have tried to find an explanation for what happens around us and we have wanted to understand how our body works.

Understanding the functioning of living organs and the reason for their different parts (cells, muscles, joints, etc.), has great applications. For example, a greater knowledge of cancer cells has been key to Medicine and is necessary to improve our health. Likewise, knowing what the role of our muscles is can help us in sports performance or in recovering from injuries.

Given this need for knowledge, physiology was born: it is a subdiscipline of Biology that studies the functions and Anatomy of living systems.

  • It may interest you: "The 6 main branches of the natural sciences"

History of Physiology

The word Physiology comes from the Greek φυσις, "physis", which refers to the term "nature", and λογος, "logos", which means knowledge.

1. Ancient and middle ages

Its origins date back to the 5th century BC., at the time of Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, who was born in Greece in 460 BC. He is known for his theory of Humours and his great contributions to the medical sciences. However, the critical thinking of

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Aristotle and his ideas of the relationship between structure and function, as well as his interest in experimenting with GalenThey were also decisive for this biological science to develop.

The Middle Ages was also a crucial period in the development of Physiology with contributions from the Arabs, who integrated the Greek and Indian knowledge of those times. Some characters of the time were very important, such as Avicenna and Ibn al-Nafis, the latter known as the father of the circulatory physiology (he correctly described the anatomy of the heart, the structure of the lungs and the circulation of the themselves).

2. Modern and contemporary age

The Renaissance is known to be the era of physiological research in the Western world, because during this time the modern study of this discipline was activated. The works of Andreas Vesalius are considered as very influential and this author is usually referred to as the founder of Human Anatomy, Later, William Harvey, as developer of experimental physiology, and Herman Boerhaave, as founder of clinical teaching, allowed the advancement of physiological knowledge and its diffusion in environments academics.

This knowledge continued to accumulate over the centuries, especially starting in the 19th century, when founded the American Physiological Association and when Matthias Schleiden and Theodor's Cell Theory appeared Schwann. Other authors like Ivan Pavlov They also made findings that were crucial for other disciplines such as Psychology or Education.

In the 20th century, Evolutionary Physiology became a distinct discipline. The technological advances of the last decades have allowed this science to increase its discoveries and its contributions to humanity.

Bases of Physiology

The structure and life of living beings is more complex than the sum of their separate parts (cells, tissues, organs, etc.). For this reason, Physiology relies on the foundations of other disciplines related to Biology:

  • Anatomy: Study the bones, muscles, joints, etc.

  • Biophysics: It focuses on the study of physical principles that are present in the processes of living beings.

  • Genetics: Refers to the study of hereditary phenomena that are transmitted from one generation to another.

  • Biochemistry: This science is responsible for the study of the chemical composition of living organisms.

  • Biomechanics: Study the forces and mechanical structures that act and are present in living beings.

Types of Physiology

Given the number of fields that Physiology covers, it is possible to classify this discipline into different specialties:

1. Plant physiology

Study of those physiological components that affect plants and vegetables, such as photosynthesis, plant nutrition and reproduction or the functions of plant hormones.

2. Animal physiology

It is the branch of Physiology responsible for the biological study of animal species.

3. Human physiology

This branch of Physiology belongs to Animal Physiology, but it focuses on the study of the human body and its different parts and functions.

4. General physiology

The study of both plant physiology and animal physiology is what is known as general physiology.

5. Comparative physiology

Its objective is to compare the functioning and structures of animals and man.

6. Cell physiology

Focused on studying the functions and anatomy of cells and how they capture stimuli and process information, reproduce and grow, feed, etc.

It is responsible for the study of biological structures, elements and processes that are related to mental life and normal or pathological behavior.

Other types of Physiology

The previous classification is the most important, however, there are other types of Physiology according to different authors.

  • Embryonic physiology: As the name suggests, his study revolves around the comparison of different types of embryos of animals in general.

  • Hearing Physiology: It is necessary to study the Anatomy and Physiology of the auditory apparatus.

  • Cardiac physiology: She is in charge of the study of the Anatomy and functioning of the heart.

  • Renal physiology: Studies the functioning and structure of the kidneys and especially the nephron, the basic functional unit of this organ.

  • Tissue physiology: It is related to cell physiology since tissues are unions of cells that work together to perform a specific task

  • Vision Physiology: Study the anatomy and functions of the eye.

  • Reproductive Physiology: It is in charge of studying the mechanisms related to the reproduction of living beings.

  • Vascular physiology: Study the structures and functions performed by veins, arteries and capillaries.


Physiology can be classified into different types; However, all of them refer to general Physiology: a science closely linked to biology that has made it possible to understand how our body works, that of other animals, plants and microorganisms.

The discoveries in Physiology have been key to the development of other disciplines such as Medicine, Psychology or Sports Training.

Bibliographic references:

  • Marieb, E.N. Essentials Of Human Physiology and Anatomy. 10th Edition, Benjamin Cummings, 2012.
  • Widmaier, E.P., Raff, H., Strang, K.T. Vander Human Physiology. 11th Edition, McGraw-Cerro, 2009.
  • Withers, P.C. Comparative animal physiology. Saunders University Press, New York, 1992.

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