early 15c., phisical, "medicinal" (opposed to surgical), from Medieval Latin physicalis "of nature, natural," from Latin physica "study of nature" (see physic).
The meaning "pertaining to matter, of or pertaining to what is perceived by the senses" is from 1590s; the meaning "having to do with the body, corporeal, pertaining to the material part or structure of an organized being" (as opposed to mental or moral) is attested from 1780. The sense of "characterized by bodily attributes or activities, being or inclined to be bodily aggressive or violent" is attested from 1970. Physical education is recorded by 1838; the abbreviated form phys ed is by 1955. Physical therapy is from 1922. Related: Physically.
"history of the development and behavior of living beings as affected by their environment," 1882, coined by English biologist St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900) from Greek hexis "a state or habit," from ekhein "to have, hold;" in intransitive use, "be in a given state or condition" (from PIE root *segh- "to hold").
Every living creature has also relations with other living creatures, which may tend to destroy it, or indirectly to aid it, and the various physical forces and conditions exercise their several influences upon it. The study of all these complex relations to time, space, physical forces, other organisms, and to surrounding conditions generally, constitutes the science of hexicology (hexiology?). [Mivart]
word-forming element referring to the environment and man's relation to it, abstracted from ecology, ecological; attested from 1969.