The Stoic philosophers might have lived 2000 years ago, but their principles of balance and optimism are more relevant than ever. Here’s what the Stoics had to say about food, fitness, and wellbeing – and how you can apply it to your own healthy lifestyle.
What is Stoicism?
You might know “stoic” as a way to describe a person who is calm, pragmatic, and kind of unflappable. But the word comes from the ancient Greek school of philosophy which began around 300 BC.
The best-known Stoic thinkers include Seneca, Epictetus, and emperor Marcus Aurelius (their letters and written philosophies have been published) but the first named Stoic is Zeno of Citium 300 years before Seneca.
Stoicism spread far and wide and was practiced for hundreds of years, by leaders, politicians, writers, and everyday people. In recent years, it’s re-entered public consciousness and is used by many as a set of guiding principles.
What were the Stoic principles?
It would take more than one blog post to outline Stoic philosophy, so here’s our take on the key Stoic principles of virtue, responsibility, courage, and justice.
Live according to nature, we are all part of it
Happiness comes from our values and choices
We can’t control what happens, we can only control our reactions
We have everything we need to live well within us already
Living well means eliminating negative emotions
Take responsibility, don’t complain or blame others
Don’t be selfish; we live in a connected society
Progress over perfection: the work is what matters most
What did the Stoics say about health and fitness?
The ancient Stoics valued physical exercise and healthy eating, but they warned against doing either thing to excess or with pride. Stoicism is pragmatic and views ageing as an inevitability. That’s not to say that the Stoics didn’t care about improving their health and wellbeing. They maintained simple, no-fuss routines that kept the mind and body in balance through walking, simple food, and sport as a way to connect with fellow man.
How to live like a modern-day Stoic
Stoics are famous for taking action rather than just talking about things. They are philosophers who demonstrate by doing. Lots of the famous Stoics were athletes: Chrysippus was a long-distance runner, Cleanthes was a boxer, and Plato (admired by the Stoics) was a wrestler.
When you’re a Stoic, you live your principles. So if health and fitness are core values, you need to walk the talk.
How physical fitness fits with Stoicism
For the Stoics, physical training wasn’t a way to show off strength or develop a great physique. Sport and fitness were active ways to demonstrate core Stoic principles: hard work, progress, resilience, effort, and taking responsibility for your own life rather than blaming external factors.
Create your own Stoic lifestyle
Take responsibility for your health. Yes, external factors will impact your mind and body, but that’s life. There’s plenty you can do to optimise the good and minimise the bad.
Take the lessons that training gives you. Sport and fitness will present plenty of opportunity for hard work, progress, courage, judgement, team work, and humility. Accept the lessons with grace.
Take the ego out of training. See sport and fitness as a way to honour your core values of health and longevity, not a way to be better than anyone else.
Spend time in nature. Stoics don’t get caught up in fads and hype, they stick to tried-and-tested methods using the body and natural environment.
Remember your body is organic matter. It will break down eventually, but in the meantime it’s your duty to look after it. Move it, rest it, feed it natural healthy food, and give it plenty of water.
Ditch the “lone wolf” attitude. It’s important to acknowledge other people’s role in your training journey, whether that’s coaches, team mates, supporters, or people who inspire you.
Push your body and mind. Growth comes when you place yourself in a state of discomfort, so use intense exercise, skills-learning, and self-control to bring about a Stoic style of growth.
Deal with setbacks. Injuries, illness, not making the team… fitness involves knock backs. You can’t control what happens, but you can always control how you think, react, and move forward.
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