From horses to Hooverball: How presidents stay fit

Story highlights

  • President-elect Donald Trump has been known to play golf
  • Many former presidents renovated the White House to accommodate their fitness activities

What fuels these presidential workouts? Here's what presidents eat, and what it says about America.

(CNN)Donald Trump isn't really known as a fitness fanatic.

The president-elect has referred to the speeches he gave on the campaign trail as a way in which he has stayed active.
    "It's a lot of work, you know, when I'm speaking in front of 15,000 to 20,000 people and I'm up there using a lot of motion. I guess in its own way, it's a pretty healthy act," Trump said on "The Dr. Oz Show" in September.
    "A lot of times, these rooms are very hot, like saunas, and I guess that's a form of exercise," he said.
    However, Trump has been known to play golf -- and he isn't the only commander in chief to enjoy the sport.
    Barack Obama, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft are also well-known presidential golfers.
    Yet giving speeches and playing golf aren't the only pastimes that presidents have turned to for fitness. From medicine balls to basketball, here's how the men in the White House have stayed active.

    Galloping down Pennsylvania Avenue

    The country's Founding Fathers -- such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson -- were known to be skilled horseback riders, said William Seale, a historian and journal editor with the White House Historical Association.
    "The common denominator was horseback riding. They all rode horses and were real horsemen," Seale said.
    "They would jump and gallop down Pennsylvania Avenue. In those days, there was a rule that a president didn't have to stop at an intersection," he said. "Most of them preferred a horse to a carriage. Most all of them were good riders."
    However, by the 1920s, presidents were interested in physical activities not only as pastimes but also as tools to maintain healthy lifestyles.
    Herbert Hoover would request that his advisers join him for breakfast, and they would exercise on the South Lawn of the White House, where they threw a heavy medicine ball over a net in a game that later would be named Hooverball.
    White House physician Vice Adm. Joel T. Boone invented the game to help keep Hoover physically fit, according to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
    Many other presidents made changes to the White House to accommodate their workouts.

    Working out at the White House

    Theodore Roosevelt, whom Seale described as a "vigorous guy," had a tennis court built on the near south side of the West Wing. It moved farther south around 1910.
    In 2009, Obama had new lines and removable baskets added so the space also could be used for a full-court game of basketball.
    The 44th president not only plays basketball, he has been known to lift free weights and work out on an elliptical. Over the years, Obama has released several workout playlists showcasing the music he listens to while breaking a sweat.
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    Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose battle with polio left him a paraplegic, often swam for exercise and as a therapeutic activity. An indoor swimming pool, which opened in 1933, was built for him in the west terrace behind the West Wing.
    Then, in 1947, bowling lanes were built in the ground floor of the West Wing as a birthday present for Harry Truman, even though the 33rd president was known to be more of a walker than a bowler.
    Truman went on daily 1½-mile walks in which he kept a 120-steps-per-minute pace, according to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.
    "Truman was the king of the walkers. He cherished his time in the Army in World War I, and he would do the pace that they do when marching, and he would do that walking every day," Seale said. "He was in good shape."
    The White House received an outdoor pool in 1975, thanks to Gerald Ford. The 38th president was known to be an avid swimmer.
    "It started out as something that looked like it was from Las Vegas, but Ford said, 'No, no, no, I just want a pool,' and it got simpler," Seale said of the pool's design.
    Soon after, Ronald Reagan created an exercise room in the White House's small West Bedroom in 1981. In 1993, a quarter-mile jogging track was installed around the south drive to accommodate Bill Clinton's jogging habit.
    Clinton was an avid runner who logged three eight-minute miles, and other politicians found it difficult to keep up with him, the New York Times reported.
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    "I thought he'd chug along like a caboose," former Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia told the Times in a 1993 article, recalling a moment when she jogged with the 42nd president.
    "I thought it was an opportunity to see the president laid back and kicking back. But he was kicking up dust and leaving me in the wind," she said.
    Even if other politicians couldn't keep up with Clinton, they still tried. After all, that 1993 article described jogging at 7 a.m. with the president as "fashionable."