Physical Culture

     The ancient Greeks were great believers in exercise and physical culture.  They had many athletic competitions, the most famous of which was the Olympic Games.
     To remain healthy, the organism needs adequate exercise and physical activity to stay in shape.  It also needs adequate rest and sleep to allow the regenerative processes time to restore its vital reserves.  Optimum health depends on finding the right balance between exercise and rest.



     Exercise is a vigorous form of physical activity; however, not all physical activity qualifies as exercise.  How do we distinguish between the two? 
     Exercise is vigorous physical activity, but vigorousness is relative.  What may be vigorous activity for some may not be for others.
     According to Galen, the criterion for determining what is vigorous activity or exercise for any given individual lies in the respiration.  What alters or increases his/her respiratory rate is defined as exercise for that individual; what doesn't, isn't. 
     Along with the respiratory rate, the pulse rate also increases.  The degree of vigor or strenuousness of any exercise workout for a given individual can be measured by how much it raises his/her pulse rate above the normal resting rate.


The Effects and Benefits of Exercize

     The physical body and all its constituent parts are kept in shape by regularly performing the functions for which they were designed.  In other words:  If you don't use it, you lose it.
     Greek Medicine recognizes several important effects and benefits of exercise, which are as follows:
     By increasing the pulse and respiratory rate, exercise gives a thorough workout to the Vital Faculty, enabling it to become more powerful, energetic and efficient.  The increased supply of fresh blood and its lifegiving pneuma improves the health and functioning of the entire organism. 
     Exercise tones and conditions the physical body.  It enables parts that would otherwise become too soft and flabby, like the muscles, to attain the right tone and firmness, while enabling parts that would otherwise become too stiff and rigid, like the tendons and joints, to maintain the desired suppleness and flexibility. 
     Exercise dilates and opens the various channels, ducts and vessels of the organism, like the blood vessels and capillaries, and cleanses them of accretions and accumulations of morbid wastes, humors or toxins that may be obstructing them. 
     Exercise cleanses the organism of superfluous or morbid humors and neutralizes toxins, chiefly by metabolizing and consuming them.  In so doing, it awakens the appetite and prepares the organism to receive, digest and metabolize more nourishment.
     Exercise lightens the body, aids in weight loss, makes the body more nimble and agile, and improves the reflexes.  It also makes the mind more focused and alert. 
     Exercise, done appropriately and in moderation, will produce all these benefits and more.  Excessive or abusive exercise, however, produces exhaustion and fatigue, and is destructive of these ends.  A program of physical conditioning should be undertaken gradually, step by step; physical conditioning doesn't happen overnight, and the organism should never be pushed beyond what it is conditioned to handle.  Push your body too hard in exercise, and you run the risk of injury.


Varieties and Forms of Exercise

     Any vigorous physical activity qualifies as exercise.  Heavy physical labor at one's work, like ditch digging, is also exercise.  Or, exercise may be undertaken purely as exercise alone. 
     There are many forms of exercise, involving a wide variety of movements - slow or swift, gentle or vigorous, continuous or intermittent.  Different exercises work different parts or the body, with some focusing on specific parts and others involving more or less the whole body.
     Movements may either be active, initiated by the exerciser himself, or passive, arising from without.  Sailing and horseback riding are examples of exercises involving a lot of passive movements.  Even massage can be seen as a form of passive exercise.
     Aerobic exercises like running give a workout to the Vital Faculty.  Others, like wrestling or yoga, stretch, bend or contort the torso in various ways, massaging the viscera and digestive organs of the Natural Faculty.  Exercises of speed and skill condition the nerves, reflexes and Psychic Faculty.  And the oldest exercise of all - sex - is obviously for the Generative Faculty, while toning and conditioning all the others.
     The astute physician or physical culturist is familiar with all the various forms of exercise and their effects and benefits on the body, as well as their indications and contraindications.  And so, various exercises can be recommended or prescribed for various conditions, just like any drug or medication. 


Exercise and the Four Temperaments

     We all need some form of exercise to maintain our health.  To ensure that we will continue to exercise on a regular basis, the form of exercise should preferably be one that's appealing to us, and will hold our interest. 
     Each one of the Four Temperaments has its own particular exercise personality, involving different motivations for exercising, as well as an attraction to different forms of exercise.  The astute physician or personal trainer will take these factors of personal temperament into account when designing an exercise program for a patient or client. 
     The Choleric individual is a natural athlete or sportsman, due to his active, driven, competitive nature.  Since he tends to push himself to extremes, he needs to be cautioned not to overdo exercise, particularly when he is out of shape, and run the risk of injury.  Cholerics are attracted to extreme sports and those involving plenty of thrills and speed.  Racing, athletic competitions, and martial arts are also appealing.
     The Sanguine individual is an artiste and team player when it comes to exercise.  They're not as aggressive or competitive as the Choleric type, and seek out sports involving a lot of grace and finesse, like dancing or figure skating.  Needing a lot of social interaction, they are natural team players, and excel in team sports.  Sanguines undertake exercise in the pursuit of art, beauty and perfection, or to find more joy, happiness and social satisfaction in being active.
     The Melancholic individual is drawn to sports of skill, like golf, or to sports of endurance and efficiency, like long distance running.  Sports that get one out in nature, like hiking, help to ground Melancholics and relieve a lot of nervous stress and anxiety.  The Melancholic type has a certain competitiveness, but it's not as intense or driven as that of the Cholerics; rather, it's more of an inner competitiveness that pits self against self to attain new heights of skill, efficiency, performance and endurance. 
     The Phlegmatic individual is the most passive of all the temperaments, and the least inclined to physical activity.  They prefer to exercise the option not to exercise!  Still, Phlegmatics can be induced to do the gentler, more appealing forms of exercise if they understand and appreciate the benefits involved.  Exercises involving a lot of passive movement, like sailing and horseback riding, are naturals, as are romantic and sentimental activities like ballroom dancing.  Aquatic sports like swimming or scuba diving put Phlegmatics in their element. 


The Greek Way of Exercise

     It's better to get sufficient exercise and physical activity, however you can, than to remain sedentary and inactive.  Still, there's a right way and a wrong way to exercise.  Greek Medicine recommends the following rules and guidelines for an ideal workout:
     First, you must know when and when not to exercise.  Don't exercise if the First Digestion is still going on, and undigested food still remains in your gut, because this will be driven deeper into your body by exercise to become toxic residues.  Neither should you exercise when the Second Digestion is going on, and the liver is concocting the humors.  Only when the belly is no longer full, and the liver is no longer concocting the humors should you undertake exercise.
     Galen recommends checking the urine to know when the time is right for exercise.  In the initial stages of digestion, the urine will still be relatively clear and pale, because the wastes from the Second Digestion have yet to be passed off.  When the urine darkens from the passing of these wastes is the right time, but not before.
     Before beginning exercise, you must void the bladder and bowels if any accumulated wastes are there, and there is a desire to eliminate them.  Otherwise, exercise will disperse these wastes and drive them deeper into the body.
     A few warmup exercises are useful before beginning an exercise routine to loosen up the body and reduce the risk of injury.  Galen also recommends a light anointing and massage routine, which is as follows:
     Rub the naked body with coarse muslin cloth; this will warm the skin and flesh, open up the capillaries, and prepare the body to receive the oil.  Then, the body should be anointed very lightly with medicated oil and given a brief massage of moderate firmness, to stimulate and tone up the muscles. 
     Greek athletes often exercised in an indoor gymnasium, where, as its name implies, they were naked while protected from the elements.  Otherwise, particularly if exercising in the outdoors, one must dress adequately to protect oneself against the weather and the elements.
     Warm-down stretching and calisthenics, as well as a more thorough and liberal anointing and massage geared towards sedation and relaxation, are recommended after the workout is over.  This speeds up recovery and helps relieve exhastion and fatigue. 
     After this is finished, it then helps to drink fluids to rehydrate oneself and replace the fluids lost through sweating and heavy breathing.  Proper hydration will also speed up recovery. 
     Then, after lingering humoral residues and superfluities have been vacated through exercise and the appetite has been reawakened, it's good to eat a hearty, nourishing meal.  Hippocrates, in his Aphorisms, states that work (or exercise) should precede food.


The Necessity of Rest

     Although most people don't get enough exercise, it is possible to get too much.  The signs and symptoms of too much exercise are as follows:
     Fatigue, exhaustion and prostration, especially in the hips and loins.
     Sore, tense or burning muscles; stiff or aching joints
     Frequent or undue sprains, strains or injuries.
     A weak or impaired digestion.
     Inability to relax or unwind; insomnia and loss of sleep.
     Excessive thirst, dehydration
     A dry, withered or emaciated appearance, sunken eyes and temples, hollow cheeks.
     Getting adequate rest as well as exercise and physical activity helps to keep the two halves of the nervous system - sympathetic and parasympathetic - in balance.  It also ensures the thoroughness, vigor and integrity of the digestive and metabolic functions.