Thousands of years ago, in pursuing “the good life”, the Ancient Greeks were ahead of their time with their holistic thinking – viewing the world from an integrated point of view, not just looking at the parts or events of our lives as being separate. They thought that nothing and no one was unrelated, that everything was connected.
Today’s numerous health organisations and institutions are encouraging us to revisit this concept and adopt its basic principles for better quality of life. We all know that being physically active and healthy eating are good for our bodies. But health experts and scientists today argue that our physical and mental health are closely linked – so physical activity and a balanced diet can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing too. Let us share the Greek path to this direction with you.
A recent survey has shown that Greece is among the top 20 countries in the field of nutrition as the contemporary Greek cuisine combines many flavors and benefits health. But what were the nutritional habits in ancient Greece? Ancient Greek nutrition appears to have been fairly well-rounded, closely matching modern nutritional recommendations. The wide variety of natural food products available would have allowed for a versatile diet. A desirable balance among grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy was likely easily attainable for the average citizen in ancient Greece. Grain products provided a base for the average Greek citizen’s nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and legumes made up the next largest food group. Sweet fruits like pomegranates, figs, grapes and raisins served as excellent snacks and side dishes. Honey was used as a sweetener, as at the time, sugar was still unknown in Greece. With more than 180 nutrients, it is a food of high nutritional value, so it is no wonder that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended honey to all his patients.
On the contrary, Ancient Greeks avoided drinking milk as it was considered barbaric, but of course, it was used in the production of cheese. Afterwards, milk was popularly believed that it’s rich in calcium and essential for strong bones and healthy teeth. However, in the last few years, several studies have highlighted again the negative side to dairy. Also, meat was very expensive and a sign of wealth, so the main source of protein was the fish. This is all very interesting considering the latest debates regarding the nutritional benefits of animal meat and products.
Possibly no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Greece. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Greek civilization. Appreciation for the beauty of the human body and the importance they placed on health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The Greeks believed the development of the body was equally as important as that of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. This idealistic fitness situation existed most strongly within Athens, which has been characterized as a democratic society most similar to the United States.
Most impressive is that training was a total discipline, combining elements of biology, physiology, ergometry and sports medicine, and was fully integrated with philosophy and politics. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Greece, including the likes of Herodicus and Hippocrates. Athletic training, what we now know as “sports science,” was considered equal in status to medicine. A structured training regime in ancient Greece included three stages: warm-up, training and cool-down – much in line with current advice from the American Heart Association.
Different forms of exercise were expected to yield different results on the athlete’s body. Running slimmed the body and inflated the muscles, due to its emphasis on breathing. Wrestling increased body heat, as well as the density and mass of muscles. The pankration was thought to dry out the flesh because it was more intense and shorter in duration. Lifting exercises and running were believed to cleanse the body from toxins through sweating.
A post-workout massage followed, at the hands of a professional who used a variety of techniques described in some detail by Galen. Medical writers also praised the benefits of various types of baths − not only for cleaning but also for soothing tired muscles and inducing euphoria in the athlete: a kind of rejuvenating spa. For us today, a myriad of landscapes and ecosystems create infinite options for activities on land or at sea. Surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, scuba diving, mountain biking and trekking along paths of exceptional beauty provide unique rejuvenating powers. More indulging experiences for the body, such as hammam, sauna, massage and similar relaxation treatments are also available today at high-quality level spas and beauty corners all over Athens and its surroundings.
Mind and body, viewed as two sides of the same coin, should be treated with care and respect as it is our purest instrument. This idea was again strongly advocated by Pythagoras, who influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. He believed that people needed to take some time each morning to center themselves before engaging with other people: “It was essential to not meet anyone until their own soul was in order and they were composed in their intellect”.
According to Pythagoras and his holistic outlook on life and human existence, the entire universe was vibrational and that we could be “tuned” to be in sync with that larger rhythm. For that reason, his disciples would listen to the music/vibration of the lyre as a means to re-tune themselves. All this echoes the modern-day rebirth of awareness, or mindfulness, which allows for making better choices leading to a mindful and healthier way of living. In the final analysis, the greatest challenge in our life is to discover and embrace our core essence. The Greeks taught us that if we take care in nurturing our authentic selves through natural approaches, we will realize our highest potential. Their insights into the integration of body, mind, and spirit are still relevant and present.
Get inspired and learn how to treat yourself and your body with our Wellness Weekend in Athens.