“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” - President John F. Kennedy
After what seems like an eternity of a pre-primary season, Americans will finally cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential election next week. Our ranking of the fitness levels of each of the candidates’ supporters was published in Politico last month. Today, we’re going to look back at our nation’s 43 presidents and identify those who stand out for their outstanding fitness.
I’m sorry, William Howard Taft fans: This blog is not for you. President Taft’s 340 pound stature and 43.2 B.M.I. (Body Mass Index) are records that will likely stand for a long time. Laggards Grover Cleveland (who once said, “Bodily movement alone ... is among the dreary and unsatisfying things of life.") and Bill Clinton (whose wife famously said, “"The good news is, my husband loves to eat and enjoys it.”) didn’t make our list.
This article celebrates the presidents – regardless of political affiliation or competence in office – who we believe are the fittest of all time. These presidents belong on a Mount Rushmore of Presidential Fitness.
Theodore Roosevelt: Rough & Tough
Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma as a child. He was by all accounts sickly growing up. However, he pushed through his ailments and became an accomplished boxer and rower while at Harvard. He served as New York’s police commissioner and spent late nights on the streets supervising his officers. During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and created a cavalry of volunteers known as the “Rough Riders.” His legendary experience leading the Rough Riders helped catapult him to the presidency. As president, Roosevelt built a boxing ring in the White House and was blinded in one eye by a punch. For fun, he would swim across near-frozen rivers and took on judo (for which he earned a brown belt).
Gerald Ford: Not Chevy Chase
Despite Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of Ford (played by Chevy Chase) as a clumsy, weak man with bad knees, Ford was an exceptional athlete. In fact, it’s because of his early athletic pursuits that Ford’s body was beat up by the time he served as president. Ford was the starting center on two national championship football teams for the University of Michigan. He turned down contract offers to play pro football for the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions in order to attend Yale Law School. Although he won on the football field, Ford never won a presidential election. He became vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned, and, the following year, became president upon Richard Nixon’s resignation. Following his electoral loss to Jimmy Carter, Ford nailed a hole in one in a pro-am golf tournament.
George Washington: Overcoming 18th Century Medicine
We haven’t seen photos of George Washington, let alone his B.M.I., resting heart rate, or max bench press. However, we can rely on accounts of his fitness from those who served with him on the battlefield when he led the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. Historian David McCullough described him as “a strapping man of commanding presence, he stood six feet two inches tall and weighed perhaps 190 pounds. There was not a King in Europe that would not look like a valet by his side.” Washington was tough. While leading his men during the French and Indian War, he was stricken with dysentery and severe hemorrhoids. In those days, doctors drew blood in an effort to eliminate “ill humors,” and Washington was severely depleted as a result. However, Washington overcame his pain and weakness, lifted himself upon his horse, and led his troops into battle.
Ronald Reagan: Staying Fit Late in Life
At nearly 70, Reagan was the oldest person sworn into the office of the presidency. Therefore, many of our memories of him are of an older man. In his youth, however, Reagan was extremely athletic. During his teen years, Reagan rescued 77 people as a lifeguard. He was captain of the swim team at Eureka College, where he was also a member of the football team. As an actor, he often played roles requiring a high level of fitness, such as cowboys and military men, and of course his famous role as Notre Dame footballer George Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American.” While in office, Reagan had a rigorous workout routine. He penned an article titled “How to Stay Fit” in Parade magazine, in which he detailed his resistance training regimen involving bursts of high weight exercises.
Be Flyte Fit,
Co-Founder & CEO
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