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Ever since 300 came out, the image of a well oiled Greek athlete has been a droolworthy part of American culture. But how did those Herculean heroes get those six packs and buns of steel? If you want to live like a Greek, check out these 13 health and fitness facts from Ancient Greece.
1. Work out when you’re drunk.
Philostratus was an orator in Greece, and he did recognize that being drunk wasn’t the ideal state for physical exertion. Of course he still expected his pupils to complete their workouts, just a slightly less intense version than usual.
2. Oil yourself.
The image of glistening bods is not entirely mythological. Greek sportsmen did cover themselves in oils, supposedly to keep them warm and toughen their skin.
3. Treadmills won’t cut it.
According to Anacharsis, Greek sprinters didn’t train by running on normal ground like dirt or grass. Instead, they ran on sand, just to make it a little harder. Sometimes they even had to carry lead weights.
4. Be rich.
Many of the Greek ideas about health were dependent on wealth. Some philosophers even suggested that there was no way for the poorer classes to successfully be healthy, as they would be too busy working. For those with leisure, suggestions included keeping your temperature even, eating according to the season, cleaning your teeth, going for a walk each morning, and exercising.
5. Use animals as weights.
According to legend, Milo of Croton, an Olympian wrestler, trained each day by carrying around a young calf on his shoulders. As it grew bigger, his weight got heavier and his strength improved.
6. Plan your mornings.
According to Hippocrates, the father of medicine, a man should wake up slowly, waiting until he feels awake to get out of bed. He should wash his face and clean his teeth, then rub his head (not combing his hair regularly). Take a walk before breakfast too, it’s good for the digestion.
7. A healthy body is good for a healthy mind.
If your body was not in well-working condition, your mind wasn’t likely to be either. As part of a healthy life, Greeks expected each other to take care of their bodies so that their minds were clear and ready to go.
8. Military training keeps everyone fit.
In Sparta, all boys became wards of the state at age six in order to be trained for the military. Girls also were required to be in peak physical condition, as they were expected to produce strong babies who would go on to be strong soldiers.
9. Keep your humors in balance.
According to the ancient Greeks, there were four humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm), and any imbalance would cause sickness. In order to bring them into balance you might draw blood or induce vomiting or sweating.
10. No dissection please.
The body was considered sacred, and organs were considered unimportant to health. Because of this, surgery and dissection were rare if not outright taboo.
11. Hearts over minds.
According to Aristotle, the heart was the most important organ as it was detected early on in an embryo and caused death if it stopped beating. in contrast, the brain was seen as relatively unimportant.
12. Leave it alone.
According to Hippocrates, the best course of action for most illnesses was to pay attention to nutrition and general well-being, but let nature take its course with minimal interference.
13. If you have a mental illness, it might be from the gods or you might just be sick.
In early antiquity, many people though mental illness (as well as other diseases) were punishments from the gods. However in the late 5th century B.C., this changed after a Hippocratic student wrote a treatise on epilepsy arguing that it was a physiological illness.