Forget "the burn". Don't worry about "the pain". The object shouldn't be to gain hulking muscles -- at least if you want to try Seneca's advice for sane and healthful living. [See Stoic New Year's Resolutions.]
Seneca (?4 B.C. - A.D. 65) mentions many individual and competitive sports in his philosophical writing because:
- Since sports and exercise were obviously familiar to his audience, he could use them to drive home points.
- Seneca thought moderate exercise developed character.
Through direct reference and allusions, Seneca refers to the following 8 recreational sports activities:
- Physical exercises like weight lifting
- Athletic events such as long and high jumping
- Combat sports, like boxing
In The Ancient History Bulletin 14.4 (2000) 162-170, Pierre Cagniart uses the philosopher's writing to examine the sporting world of ancient Rome. Unlike ancient Greeks who sought to win and achieve excellence in sport:
"If winning a competition was for the Greeks overwhelmingly important, if athletics were serious activities for them, and if athletic achievements brought honors and status to the winners, it was not so in Rome."
Romans sought the benefits sports conferred:
"recreational, health-promoting, or military usefulness".
Time and again the power-wielders in Rome, from Pompey (106 - 48 B.C.) to Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), tried to woo the masses with Greek games at festivals, but the Romans preferred to attend gladiatorial games, other combat sports, and footraces.
As an example of the difference between Greek and Roman attitude towards sport, Cagniart says a Greek would throw a javelin for distance whereas a Roman would throw at a target.
You don't need an expensive gym membership, since you can get as good results with a DVD
Romans were practical. The first permanent stadium for athletics wasn't constructed until Domitian, but athletic activity doesn't require a fixed site. Besides the natural rivers and paths for bathing and staying fit, the public used the baths for games and exercise.
Health, Not Exerciseor
You can have cardio health without a 6-pack
Seneca thought exercise should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Jealousy of natural athletes may have played a small part in this since the philosopher was not strong and healthy. His frailties even saved his life when Caligula sought to kill him, but was persuaded that nature would do the job just as well. Seneca tried various methods to lessen the severity of his asthma and other ailments, including a rigorous daily regimen of running and swimming. He suggested to his friend Lucilius that he engage in "'running, brandishing weights, and jumping, high-jumping or broad-jumping....'" While Seneca acknowledged the value of exercise, he looked down on those who work on creating bulging muscles. To him they were wasteful: sacrificing time and mental energy. In addition, the amount of food required to support a life devoted to professional athletics leads to mental lethargy.
Mens Sana = Bona Mens et Bona Valitudo Animi
Healthy body in a healthy mind, Juvenal's mens sana in corpore sano line, is more famous, but Seneca expressed a similar idea. One should exercise to obtain
- a good mind
- good spiritual health
- finally, health of body
This is rendered in Latin as Roga bonam mentem, bonam valitudinem animi, deinde tunc corporis.