The Ancients Were Tougher

You'd think that with all the technically sophisticated workout systems available to modern men and women we'd be the most fit society in history. Scientists from the University of Leeds and the University of London would disagree. A study of ancient Greek texts dating to 500 BC, and an examination of modern day rowers propelling the accurate recreation of a Greek Navy Trireme, showed that the physical abilities of your typical ancient Greek matches up to the level of today's most elite athletes.

It takes 170 rowers to propel one of these vessels. When these ancient texts were written, the Greek Navy could launch 200 Triremes at any given time. That meant they needed to have 34,000 rowers available. Figuring average sustainable ship speeds of the day, researchers calculated metabolic demands for the ancient rowers and found that, in the here and now, you'd be very hard pressed to find enough people who could handle that level of exertion. Remember that in 500 BC the world population was a fraction of what it is today.

The Bigger Picture: It isn't technology that's dragging down our present level of fitness. The Greek's Triremes were so fast and advanced in design that they elevated Athens to the dominant sea power of the day. The difference is probably in our sedentary lifestyle and consumption of processed foods. Remember that the ancients didn't have TVs to sit and watch or automobiles to drive. More importantly, they consumed a Mediterranean style diet rich in protein and omega 3 fatty acids.
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Latissimus Maximus
Jan 17, 2008
More proof that I was born 2000 years too late. People were tough back then!
Neil Gerst
Jan 21, 2008
My fitness goal has just changed to "making the ancients proud".