5 Presidents Who Took Their Physical Fitness Seriously

5 Presidents Who Took Their Physical Fitness Seriously

Feb 18, '19

In this week's blog and in celebration of President's Day, we've put together this list of 5 presidents who really worked at staying fit (sans Instagram).

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR Water Polo Pic - Getty Images

Most people today know that FDR was plagued his entire life by the debilitating effects of polio, but as for the country at the time, many were unaware for years, with his condition only really becoming part of the political conversation in the years right before his death. In fact, by 1921, the President had become completely unable to walk without the assistance of others or the use of a very uncomfortable brace. That never slowed FDR down, though.

Always fond of the water, as FDR's legs became unable to support his body weight, he began spending more and more time inside of a pool where he would religiously spend three days a week working on his stroke. Before his death, FDR was known to have dedicated significant time in the water working to strengthen his arms, back, and core. The results were never able to give him full mobility back, but by 1924 he was able to proudly boast that he could "walk around in water 4 feet deep without braces or crutches almost as well as if I had nothing the matter with my legs."

4. Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan Working Out - Bettmann / Getty Images

Let's just be honest about it. Ronald Reagan was ALWAYS in good health. Starting at an early age, he was constantly doing something. In high school he played varsity football and baseball and ran track. During his summers he would work as a lifeguard and is credited with saving 77 people from drowning! His penchant for physical fitness didn't end when he graduated, though. As he began to get more and more work as an actor, the former President maintained many of his physical fitness goals to ensure that he was always in peak physical shape. 

As President, Reagan was a known exercise buff and in 1983, Parade magazine wrote a feature on him where he detailed his normal workout. He was always cognizant of his health and fitness, and even described in his article how he utilized cardio, stretching, and strength conditioning to keep fit. He also was a huge proponent of an alternating workout schedule and was once quoted as saying "[a]ll your muscles—not just a few—need exercise."

3. Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman leading exercises on the USS Missouri

Harry S. Truman has always been a favorite of mine. As a president and a person, Truman was a colorful character that I never feel gets enough attention. Famously quoted as saying "the buck stops here," Truman was known for his dedication to personal responsibility and is, in my opinion, too often overlooked as one of America's best presidents. Among the many things he did to reinforce this image, was his dedication to his personal fitness.

Truman often kept to a healthy, calorie restricted diet that consisted of lots of vegetables, fruit, and dairy and he would probably be considered a health nut in today's world. In addition to his healthy eating, he also kept to a very specific exercise regimen. The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum actually chronicled his workouts and of note is his insistence in maintaining consistency throughout his exercises. Walking, for example was done every morning for 1.5 miles at a very specific pace of 120 steps per minute. Probably not that easy without being able to take his phone with him

2. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

America's 6th president, John Quincy Adams, could very easily be considered a fitness fanatic. Adams, like Truman, was an avid walker and was known to lay down between two and six miles daily. Additionally, he was known to rise at 5am every morning to swim the Potomac River, sometimes nude, often for up to 50 minutes in the current. 

Much like David Goggins nowadays, John Quincy Adams was a believer in the health benefits of cold baths and would take one daily. No idea if it was to "embrace the suck," but it was widely known about him that he enjoyed the restorative shock of cold water on the skin.

1. "Teddy" Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt

About the only word to describe the physical exploits of FDR's favorite uncle is: legendary. At various points in his life, he was an accomplished Judoka, hiker, cross-country runner, polo player, wrestler, and boxer. Considered the most active president in US history, he is constantly referred to in the history record as being a giant ball of energy. 

Possibly a reaction to his infirmity as a child, when Roosevelt was able enough to get moving, he never stopped. Upon graduation, his doctor had advised him to find a nice desk job so as not to agitate his chronic asthma. He of course ignored this advice and instead climbed the Matterhorn. This was a trend throughout his life and presidency. The man was about as active and inspiring as a person could be. 

Often credited with creating a physical accountability for future presidents (Taft, notwithstanding), Roosevelt set the precedent of projecting stability through presidential physical fitness. A projection that lasts to this day. Surprisingly, though, a 2012 study of the most physically fit presidents only ranked him 4th (losing out to George H.W. Bush, Eisenhower, and Gerald Ford), which is surprising given the fact that Roosevelt literally BOXED in the white house; a choice that would ultimately cost him most of the sight in his left eye due to a sparring accident.

But even with his debatable showing in the Presidential Power Rankings, there is no question that Teddy's colorful life was the picture of living the active lifestyle


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