What Was Exercise Like in Ancient Times?

Exercise has been an integral part of human history since ancient times. Although the nature and purpose of physical activities varied greatly across different cultures, physical fitness was always highly valued.

So, what was exercise like in ancient times? In this article, we will explore the different types of exercise that were practiced in various civilizations.

Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians were known for their love of sports and physical activities. They believed that a healthy body was necessary for a healthy mind and soul.

The most popular sports among the Egyptians were wrestling, boxing, archery, and swimming. The rich would also indulge in hunting and horse riding.


Wrestling was one of the most popular sports in ancient Egypt. It was practiced both as a recreational activity and as a form of military training. The wrestlers would oil their bodies to make it harder for their opponents to get a grip on them.


Boxing was another popular sport among the ancient Egyptians. Unlike modern boxing, there were no rounds or time limits.

The boxers fought until one of them was unable to continue. They wore gloves made of leather or cloth to protect their hands.


Archery was also an important sport in ancient Egypt. It was considered a valuable skill for hunting and warfare. Archers used bows made of wood or animal horns and arrows made of reeds or wood.


Swimming was not only a recreational activity but also an essential skill for fishermen and sailors. The Nile River provided ample opportunities for swimming.

Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks valued physical fitness as much as intellectual pursuits. They believed that a healthy body was necessary for a healthy mind. Gymnasiums were an integral part of Greek life where people would gather to exercise and socialize.


Running was a popular sport among the ancient Greeks. They organized various running competitions such as the stadion, which was a race of about 200 meters, and the diaulos, which was a race of about 400 meters.

Wrestling was also an important sport in ancient Greece. The Greeks believed that wrestling developed strength, agility, and endurance. Wrestling matches were held in arenas called palaestras.

Discus Throw

The discus throw was a sport that required great strength and skill. The athletes would throw a heavy disc made of stone or metal as far as possible.

Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans were known for their love of gladiator games and chariot races. Although these activities were not considered exercise in the modern sense, they required physical fitness and strength.

Gladiator Games

Gladiator games were brutal contests in which trained fighters would battle each other to death or submission. The gladiators trained rigorously to develop their strength and fighting skills.

Chariot Races

Chariot races were extremely popular among the ancient Romans. The racers had to be physically fit and skilled in handling horses.

Ancient China

The ancient Chinese practiced various forms of physical exercise such as martial arts, qigong, and tai chi. These exercises were not only beneficial for physical health but also for mental well-being.

Martial Arts

Martial arts such as kung fu, tai chi, and wushu were developed in ancient China for self-defense purposes. These practices required great physical fitness, agility, and discipline.


Qigong is a form of exercise that involves slow movements, breathing techniques, and meditation. It was developed in ancient China for promoting physical and mental health.


Exercise has been an important part of human history since ancient times. Different civilizations had their unique forms of physical activities that were valued for their physical and mental benefits. By understanding the exercise practices of our ancestors, we can appreciate the importance of physical fitness in maintaining a healthy body and mind.