Below is an excellent post from Must Triumph on the importance of exercise in building character. The full article may be read here.
On Exercise and Building Character
Calisthenics — in many ways the first form of exercise — comes from the ancient Greek words kállos (κάλλος) and sthénos (σθένος), meaning "beauty" in "strength."By Sam Yang
Physical exertion was and still is the first form of character building. As children, movement was the initial way we learned to assert ourselves. Our physical behavior was the only window to know what kind of character we had. Early on, the only way for parents to influence our character was to influence our movements: explore, play, run, touch this, and don't touch that. In other words, childhood.
Physical culture and, eventually, exercise became a tangible and easily understood way to modify ourselves. Prior to all the industrial and technological revolutions, we didn't dissociate ourselves from our bodies. They were one and the same, and changing our bodies also meant changing our being. When life was mostly based on physical labor, more strength could completely alter one's life.
Fitness used to be an indication of your character. Your body was the physical representation of the life you lived, your work ethic, and your resilience. Calloused hands, strong neck, and strong arms meant you engaged in honest, hard work. These were the symbols of your virtue — the strength of the commoner. It was symbolic of your ability to overcome obstacles. Today it is a metaphor, back then it was a truth of life, moving and molding the earth with your bare hands.
Greek athletes and Roman gladiators personified the power of their nations. Myths and fables honored the hero who could overcome all odds. Within their chiseled bodies was an even greater spirit that was beyond measure. The body was just a canvas where some of their greatness bled. Sometimes the gods bestowed powers and gifts to those who were worthy, those who already exemplified effort and grit. Calisthenics — in many ways the first form of exercise — comes from the ancient Greek words kállos (κάλλος) and sthénos (σθένος), meaning "beauty" in "strength." We are just now trying to revive this old idea with the "strong is beautiful" movement.
Your Body Is the Temple You Spend Your Whole Life CultivatingThough it seems odd now, in the ancient world, the social elites were physical. They bended and stretched, symbolic of their flexible minds that could work out problems. They also ran and engaged in activities that involved taxing the lungs. Instead of working their muscles, it was about working their heart. This wouldn't create the body of a laborer. It was more internal, it was about having an indomitable will. Endurance activities were about a person's ability to endure. That is the quality worth cultivating. A marathon is not an effective way to attain health but it is a tremendous symbol of one's spirit, mindset, and fortitude.
Push-Ups First, Philosophy SecondSocrates, followed by his disciple Plato, trained their students in physical culture. (All the Greek and Roman philosophers, including the Stoics, involved themselves in physical culture.) Only recently did we divorce virtues and the good life from the physical life — a product of industrialization and Western dualism.
Calisthenics, running, and wrestling, were taught alongside mathematics and astronomy. The belief was, to sharpen the mind, one must first sharpen the body — for the body is material and easier to mold. It is also the way we experience life, empiricism, and without experience, philosophy is impossible to teach. (Everything would be abstract and unknowable.) Evolution and increasing of intelligence, themselves, are biological (physical) processes.
Latin for a healthy body is a healthy mind or a healthy mind is a healthy body.
If one were really intellectual, the value of the physical would be self-evident. If one were really physical, one would be empirically aware. (Maybe this dissonance is a sign that we still have much to improve upon.) The body and mind exist so that we may experience life. One without the other is sense without knowledge, and knowledge without sense.
Fight, wrestle, run, because without it, you are too stupid and lazy to teach. This was the blunt lifesaving wisdom of the time. The intellectual was physical; the physical was intellectual. One should neither be novice nor sluggish in either. Today we believe the opposite, the intellectual and physical at odds, even the people at odds — without a sense of a unified culture. And we are that much further from the good life — individually and as a people.
Hard-work is a virtue, not laziness. Now we think of traits relative to the specific activity, not to the individual. I work hard at the gym or I work hard at school. The emphasis on the activity not on the person. Not: I am a hard worker. Period.