Presidents—they’re just like us!
It’s hard enough to find time to exercise and eat right when working a nine-to-five job—imagine how much harder it must be when you’re the President of the United States!
And yet, many presidents throughout history have been total health nuts. Looking back, some of their healthy habits and ideas make total sense . . . and others just seem flat-out bizarre.
From the wise to the wacky, here’s how seven presidents handled their health while serving as the Leader of the Free World:
1.) Teddy Roosevelt Played Way More Sports Than You
Theodore Roosevelt—war hero, big game hunter, “trust buster,” and every manly man’s favorite president—was actually quite small in stature and asthmatic as a child.
As he grew up, though, Roosevelt became heavily invested in fitness. A passionate sportsman, he dabbled in plenty of competitive activities throughout his life, including wrestling, boxing, hiking, rowing, and polo. He was also a big fan of tennis, and was responsible for getting the White House’s very first tennis court installed.
Oh, we almost forgot—Roosevelt also took up judo, and became the first American ever to earn a brown belt for his accomplishments in the sport! Famously, he once demonstrated a judo hold and throw on a Swiss minister during a particularly dull state luncheon. (And people say politicians today are too aggressive!)
2.) Herbert Hoover Invented His Own Game to Stay Fit
Herbert Hoover was invested in fitness, but couldn’t find time to get in his perfect exercise regimen in his busy presidential schedule. So, to compensate, he just created his own game!
Alongside physician Joel T. Boone, Hoover created an intense, physically demanding sport that could be squeezed into just a few minutes per day. Dubbed “Hooverball,” the makeshift sport involved a six-pound medicine ball, and looked a little bit like a cross between tennis and volleyball.
Hoover and his White House staffers played the game at least six days a week—and it’s coming back into fashion right now as a killer Crossfit exercise! Want to join in before Hooverball becomes a fad? You can study up on the rules here.
3.) John Adams Started His Day With Hard Cider
A popular story about John Adams—our second president, who also served as a prominent political strategist, statesman, and vice president under George Washington—was that he loved to down hard cider at the crack of dawn.
Adams’ own diary lends credence to the tale. In his personal writings, he claims that drinking a “jill” of cider in the morning seemed to do him good “by diluting and dissolving the Phlegm or the Bile in the Stomach.”
Now, a jill isn’t very much; it only measures about to be about a quarter of a pint by modern standards. And this gulp of booze was part of Adams’ comprehensive morning routine, which also included waking up around 5 a.m., breakfasting, and taking a five or six mile walk.
Still, there’s something fascinating about tossing back a cold one at the very start of your day. And, from a modern standpoint, we know that hard cider is loaded with calories and sugar, making this a unique health choice, to say the least.
There’s no word on whether John Adams passed this ritual down to his son, President John Quincy Adams. But we do know that John Q. Adams had his own unique habit: he was incredibly fond of skinny-dipping in the Potomac River for hours at a time.
4.) Harry S. Truman Had Rhythm
As part of his daily routine, President Harry Truman made it a point to walk a mile and a half—and always at the strict pace of 120 steps a minute.
Why this timing? As the 33rd president once explained:
“If you walk 120 paces a minute, your whole body gets a vigorous workout. You swing your arms and take deep breaths as you walk . . . After you are fifty years old, this is the best exercise you can get . . . [S]ome aging exhibitionists try to prove that they can play tennis or handball or anything else . . . And every once in a while one of them falls dead of a heart attack. I say that’s not for me.”
5.) Bill Clinton Balanced Out Junk Food With Jogging
Though he has switched to a vegan diet in his post-presidential life, President Bill Clinton had a passionate junk food habit in his younger days, including a penchant for fatty foods like barbecue, enchiladas, and pie.
But this president’s first and greatest love was McDonald’s. He was prone to making surprise pit stops at McDonald’s locations around the country, sometimes with Vice President Al Gore or First Lady Hillary Clinton in tow.
To his credit, Clinton balanced out these fattening food habits with a fierce commitment to jogging. During his time in the White House, he would lace up his sneakers and go out for a run at least three times a week, often to the chagrin of the Secret Service, who feared for his safety during these public outings.
Clinton was such a passionate jogger that a quarter-mile track was added to the White House grounds in 1993. When he would go out in public, the White House also set up a “straggler van,” to scoop up congressmen and other running buddies who couldn’t keep up with the president’s stamina.
6.) Lyndon B. Johnson Was a Notorious Napper
Famously, Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded John F. Kennedy, was both an early riser and a bit of a night owl, waking before seven and often going to bed well after midnight. To help keep his energy levels up, Johnson adopted what he called a “two-shift day.”
After working through the morning and into the early afternoon, Johnson would take a 30–45 minute nap before hitting the second half of his day. And this wasn’t just any cat nap.
You see, Johnson believed that, in order to see all the benefits of napping, you had to get very, very comfy. He would famously strip out of his work clothes and don pajamas before getting some shuteye, then shower and change into clean clothes after his nap.
As he once explained: “The only way to relax . . . is to peel off all your clothes and make believe you’re going to bed for the evening.”
It’s a great line, although, we don’t recommend trying this line on your boss the next time you feel drowsy at the office . . . It probably won’t get you very far.
7.) Ronald Reagan Never Skipped Leg Day
Before becoming the president in 1981, Ronald Reagan was an actor in Hollywood. And while the stars of his day weren’t always as buff as the Marvel superheroes dominating the big screen now, Reagan still knew the value of quality exercise.
He believed in a balanced workout emphasizing all of his muscle groups, and would alternate his exercise routine to focus on different parts of his body on different days. He once explained his methodology in Parade Magazine, writing:
“I have two different sets of exercises I do on alternate days . . . [Most] people don’t realize it, but you can overdevelop a set of muscles at the expense of other muscles and thus reduce flexibility, so it’s important that the routine you develop be well-rounded. All your muscles—not just a few—need exercise.”
Words of wisdom worth thinking while you watch the local gym rat obsess only over his glamour muscles.
We should point out that Reagan wasn’t always the picture of health, though. He was a smoker for much of his life, and even appeared in print ads for tobacco products in the 1940s and ‘50s. His fondness for tanning also led to a battle with skin cancer; he had to have basal cell carcinomas removed in 1985 and 1987.
Are you healthier than any of these presidents? Do you have a fitness regimen that would put theirs to shame? The Enrollment Specialists would love to hear from you! Feel free to keep the conversation going by sending us your favorite health and wellness hacks on Facebook!
Looking to get started with health insurance for yourself, your family, or your small business? Led by our own fearless president, Matt Peebles, The Enrollment Specialists would love to help you find the right plan, at the right price! Drop us a line when you’re ready to join the hundreds of satisfied clients who are proud to say “I Got A Guy!” for all things health and life insurance.