Hippocrates on Obesity and the Sedentary Life



Hippocrate of Kos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), also known as Hippocrates II, was a physician of Greece’s Classical era who is considered to be the “Father of Medicine”, as he was the first who believed that diseases are caused naturally and not by the gods.

The ancient physician also believed that a good diet could have medicinal qualities, placing great importance to what a patient eats or what foods should avoid. He often used lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise to treat diseases such as diabetes, what is today called lifestyle medicine.

Hippocrates had put emphasis on the issue of obesity, as in ancient Greece, a person’s weight was considered to be the result of a lazy lifestyle.

Hippocrates was aware that several sudden deaths were associated with obesity. “Dieting which causes excessive loss of weight, as well as the feeding-up of an emaciated person, is beset with difficulties,” he wrote.

The Greek physician also advised his patients for a more active life and exercise. He is quoted as saying that “Walking is man’s best medicine.”

“Their bodies grow relaxed and squat…through their sedentary lives. For the boys, until they can ride, sit the greatest part of the time in the wagon, and because of the migrations and wanderings rarely walk on foot; while the girls are wonderfully flabby and torpid in physique,” Hippocrates wrote.

The physician also observed that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle have a negative impact on women’s reproductive health.

To that end, there is an anecdote about Hippocrates and a gluttonous, fat man who had approached him and asked him how he could get rid of all the excessive weight.

“My advice is simple,” the physician replied. “Live on a piece of celery a day. And earn with much effort and sweat the money you need to buy it.”