The Link Between Stoicism and Physical Health

stoicism and physical health
The ancient philosophy of Stoicism offers a profound and enduring perspective on maintaining physical well-being, which is a stark contrast to fleeting trends and superficial goals in today’s quest for physical health. By emphasizing self-control, rationality, and emotional resilience, Stoicism provides timeless wisdom that can transform our approach to health and fitness.

This blog explores the powerful link between Stoicism and physical health, revealing how adopting a Stoic mindset can lead to a balanced, disciplined, and fulfilling lifestyle. 

Table of Contents

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that originated in ancient Greece and later became popular in ancient Rome. Founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BCE, it emphasizes living  in accordance with reason, virtue, and the laws of nature, and finding inner peace through accepting life’s adversities with equanimity. Stoics believe that by developing self-control and wisdom, one can achieve inner peace and happiness, regardless of external circumstances.
Key principles of Stoicism
  1. Virtue: Stoics believe that living a virtuous life is the highest good. They emphasize the importance of the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
  2. Reason: Stoicism places a strong emphasis on rational thinking and encourages individuals to use their reason to understand the world and make wise decisions.
  3. Emotional Resilience: Stoics strive to develop emotional resilience by practicing techniques such as negative visualization and premeditation of evils to prepare for and cope with difficult situations. 
  4. Memento Mori: Remembering one’s mortality as a way to live life fully and not fear death.
  5. Dichotomy of Control: Recognizing that some things are within your control (your thoughts, actions, and attitudes) and others are not (external events, the actions of others, etc.), and focusing only on the former.
  6. Apatheia: Striving for emotional tranquility by avoiding strong passions and emotions that can cloud judgment. It is a condition of being undisturbed by external events, and equanimity, maintaining a balanced and tranquil mind.
Some facts about stoicism
  1. Influential Stoic Figures: Aside from Zeno and Marcus Aurelius, other influential Stoic figures include Seneca the Younger, Epictetus, and Chrysippus.
  2. Stoicism’s Influence: Stoicism has influenced many other philosophical traditions, including Christianity, and has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years due to its practical applications in modern life.
  3. Stoic Practices: Some common Stoic practices include negative visualization (imagining the worst-case scenario to prepare for potential setbacks), morning and evening reflection (reviewing one’s actions and thoughts at the beginning and end of each day), and premeditatio malorum (preparing for potential adversities by mentally rehearsing them).
  4. Stoic Ethics: Stoic ethics are centered around living in harmony with nature, fulfilling one’s role in society, and developing one’s inner character through virtue.
Prominent Stoic philosophers include
  • Zeno of Citium: The founder of Stoicism.
  • Epictetus: A former slave whose teachings were recorded by his student Arrian in the “Discourses” and the “Enchiridion” (Handbook).
  • Seneca: A Roman statesman and philosopher who wrote extensively on Stoic philosophy in essays and letters.
  • Marcus Aurelius: Roman Emperor whose personal reflections are compiled in the “Meditations,” offering practical advice on applying Stoic principles.

Stoicism has seen a resurgence in modern times, often referred to as “modern Stoicism,” where its practical teachings are applied to personal development, mental health, and coping strategies in contemporary life.

What Role Can a Stoic Mindset Play in My Physical Health?

A Stoic mindset can significantly benefit physical health through its emphasis on rational thinking, emotional regulation, and disciplined lifestyle choices. Here are several ways adopting a Stoic mindset can positively impact your physical health:

Here are some ways in which adopting a Stoic mindset can benefit your physical health:


  1. Emotional Resilience: A Stoic mindset helps you manage stress and anxiety by emphasizing emotional resilience and acceptance of circumstances beyond your control. Lower stress levels can, in turn, support better immune function, heart health, and overall well-being. Techniques like cognitive reframing, where you reinterpret negative events in a more rational and less distressing way, can reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on the body.
  2. Stress Reduction: Stoicism teaches the importance of focusing on what we can control and accepting what we cannot. This perspective can reduce stress and anxiety, which are known to have adverse effects on physical health. Lower stress levels can lead to better heart health, lower blood pressure, and improved immune function.
  3. Mindful Living: Stoicism encourages living in the present moment and practicing mindfulness, which can help you make healthier choices regarding diet, exercise, and sleep. It also fosters a greater awareness of your body’s needs and signals.
  4. Self-Discipline: The Stoic emphasis on self-control and discipline can motivate you to maintain healthy habits and resist unhealthy temptations or impulsive behaviors. Regular habits like daily exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest become easier to sustain with a disciplined mindset.
  5. Acceptance and Adaptation: Stoicism teaches acceptance of circumstances beyond your control, which can help you adapt to health challenges or physical limitations without undue stress or negativity.
  6. Positive Mindset: A Stoic mindset focuses on rational thinking and cultivating positive emotions like gratitude, which can have a beneficial effect on mental and physical health. Research has shown that a positive outlook can contribute to better health outcomes, including faster recovery from illness and improved coping with chronic conditions.
  7. Improved Sleep: Managing stress and emotions through Stoic practices can lead to better sleep quality. Adequate and restful sleep is crucial for physical health, affecting everything from immune function to weight management.
  8. Pain Management: Stoicism teaches that pain is an inevitable part of life but can be endured with the right mindset. By viewing pain as something that is within your capacity to manage, rather than something to be feared, you can improve your tolerance and response to physical discomfort.\
  9. Resilience and Recovery: A Stoic mindset can enhance resilience, helping you recover more quickly from illnesses or injuries. By focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t, you foster a proactive approach to rehabilitation and health maintenance.

Incorporating Stoic principles into your daily life can lead to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, ultimately improving both your mental and physical well-being.

Separating Ego and Exercise: What We Can Learn from the Great Stoics

Separating ego from exercise can be a challenging task, but can be a transformative approach to physical fitness, ensuring that your motivations are grounded in genuine self-improvement rather than external validation or pride. 

Here’s what we can learn from the great Stoics to help us detach our egos from our exercise routines:

  1. Emphasize Internal Growth: As advocated by Epictetus, concentrate on your personal growth and development, rather than comparing yourself to others. Exercise should be viewed as an opportunity to improve your health, well-being, and character, rather than a competition or means to impress others.
  2. Practice Self-Reflection: Marcus Aurelius believed in the importance of introspection and self-awareness. By reflecting on your motivations for exercising and the value it adds to your life, you can keep your ego in check and stay focused on what truly matters.
  3. Value Virtue Over External Success: Stoicism teaches that true worth comes from virtue and living a life aligned with reason, rather than external achievements. Apply this mindset to your exercise routine by prioritizing consistency, discipline, and personal growth over superficial accomplishments.  Focus on the effort you put into your exercise routine rather than obsessing over factors outside your control, like genetic predispositions or comparing yourself to others.
  4. Acceptance and Resilience: Seneca’s teachings on acceptance and resilience can help you view setbacks in your exercise journey as learning opportunities, rather than blows to your ego. By embracing challenges and growth, you can detach your sense of self-worth from temporary successes or failures.
  5. Foster a Community Mindset: Stoicism values the interconnectedness of all individuals and the importance of contributing to society. In your exercise journey, prioritize collaboration and support within your fitness community over competition, and remember that your efforts can inspire and motivate others.
  6. Develop a Balanced Self-Identity: Stoicism warns against becoming too attached to any single identity or role. Ensure that your self-worth is not solely tied to your identity as a fit or athletic person. Cultivate diverse interests and values beyond fitness, ensuring that exercise is a part of your life but not the sole determinant of your self-worth. 
  7. Embrace the Process, Not Just the Outcome: Stoicism stresses the importance of focusing on the present moment and the process rather than being fixated on the end result. In exercise, this means enjoying the act of working out and the gradual progress rather than obsessing over immediate results. Set realistic, process-oriented goals like improving form, increasing stamina, or achieving consistency, rather than purely outcome-based goals like hitting a specific weight or body fat percentage.
  8. Cultivate Resilience and Patience: Zeno of Citium founded Stoicism on the idea that enduring hardship with grace and patience is key to a virtuous life. Physical fitness often involves overcoming challenges and setbacks. Embrace these moments as opportunities for growth. View setbacks such as injuries or plateaus not as failures but as part of the journey, teaching resilience and patience.

Practical Steps to Implement Stoic Principles in Exercise
  • Set Internal Goals: Focus on goals related to personal growth and well-being rather than external approval. For example, aim to feel more energetic or to manage stress better through regular exercise.
  • Mindfulness in Workouts: Practice being fully present during your workouts. Pay attention to how your body feels, your breathing, and the movements you are performing.
  • Reflective Practice: Regularly reflect on your motivations for exercising. Journaling about why you exercise and how it aligns with your values can help keep your ego in check.
  • Acceptance of Limitations: Recognize and accept your physical limits, and work within them. Push yourself, but not to the point of harm or burnout.
By incorporating these Stoic principles into your approach to exercise, you can develop a healthier mindset that prioritizes personal growth, resilience, and the intrinsic value of physical activity over external validation or ego-driven pursuits.

Get Stronger with Stoicism

 The principles of Stoicism can have a profound influence on our physical health and well-being. By focusing on what you can control, embracing moderation, and valuing the intrinsic rewards of a healthy lifestyle, you align yourself with a philosophy that promotes overall well-being. The ancient wisdom of Stoicism reminds us that our mental and physical health are deeply interconnected, and that embracing a holistic approach to well-being can lead to a more balanced, fulfilling existence. By learning from the great Stoics, we can find inspiration and guidance on our journey towards optimal physical health and a life well-lived.
Happy Lifting!

I hope you found this information helpful. Check out my other related posts such as the golden rules for weight training for beginners and how Ballistic and Plyometric exercises can benefit you. We also recorded a relevant podcast on injuries and prevention.

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