How 5 Historical Figures Stayed in Shape

  • Teddy Roosevelt on a horse
Teddy Roosevelt on a horse
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

In an era dominated by high-tech home gyms and viral workout videos, the pursuit of physical fitness may seem like a distinctly modern preoccupation. But physical activity has long been an integral part of daily life. From ancient philosophers sculpted by rigorous training to intellectuals who advocated for the importance of diet and exercise as part of a holistic approach to well-being, history is filled with people who placed a premium on their physical fitness.

Here are five renowned historical figures who aren’t typically remembered for their athleticism, but whose commitment to exercise profoundly influenced their lives. The paths they took to stay physically fit varied widely, reflecting the diverse approaches people have taken to fitness throughout history. 

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Plato (427-348 BCE)

Plato, one of the three ancient Greek philosophers (along with Socrates and Aristotle) attributed with building the philosophical foundation of Western culture, was educated in both mental and physical pursuits. Like other Athenian boys, Plato was trained in a variety of physical activities, including gymnastics, wrestling, archery, boxing, and riding. His given name was Aristocles, but it may have been his broad-shouldered physique that earned him the name Plato, from “platos,” the Greek word for “broad.” Before turning to philosophy, Plato put his physicality to use as a skilled wrestler competing in the Isthmian Games, an event similar to the ancient Greek Olympics. “Lack of activity destroys the condition of every human being,” he wrote, “while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”

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