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Is one allowed to do exercises on Shabbos?

Are any types allowed? Some examples of different types:

  • Lifting weights or heavy items
  • Jumping jacks
  • Taking a walk (long, but without Techum issues)
  • Doing sit-ups or push-ups
  • Stretching
  • Climbing steps

In all cases, assume that the user is doing such actions with intent to lose weight.

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2  
There is also a question whether it is in the spirit of Shabbos. –  Gershon Gold Jun 22 '11 at 1:40
    
Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz, zt'l, who grew up in Lomza, Poland, before moving to the United States in 1938 to study at what is now the Skokie Yeshiva, told me how he and his friends would play soccer on Shabbos. I asked, didn't your parents complained? "No, we did it while they were taking their Shabbos naps." –  Bruce James Jul 1 '13 at 21:39

2 Answers 2

From what I recall, doing something for medicinal or aerobic reasons generally falls under the category of refuah, which is a rabbinic prohibition which itself falls under the category of tochein.

However, there is an important distinction to be made. There are two types of these activities:

  1. Things that are clearly only for the medicinal, dietary, or aerobic purposes implied. This would include push-ups, lifting weights, taking certain pills, and other things that would not otherwise be done without the intention of losing weight, body building, or improving health.
  2. Things that may be done with other intentions in mind. For example, taking a long walk could be done for aerobic purposes, but also because one enjoys taking a walk. Drinking tea with honey is common to help a sore throat, but could be done also just because one enjoys the taste.

The first category of activities is what is prohibited under the ban of refuah. The second category is permitted even if it is being done with the intention of bettering one's health. That is, even if one is taking the long walk with the intention of getting exercise, since walks are not exclusively taken for this purpose, it is permitted.

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A source would be appropriate to prove that exercise is refuah despite the fact that he is not sick and the exercise is merely preventative. –  YDK Jun 22 '11 at 3:20
    
@YDK, Good point. I will find the source. –  jake Jun 22 '11 at 5:35
    
@jake - Still looking for the source? –  Adam Mosheh May 10 '13 at 2:39
1  
@AdamMosheh, No, I've long forgotten about this. Although this is probably based on what I remembered reading in R' Ribiat's "39 Melachos", I don't have it with me currently. I will look at it when I have the chance. For now, though, see Shulchan Aruch (OC 301:1-2) and Mishna Berurah there (301:7). –  jake May 10 '13 at 17:05

The Rabbis forbade taking medicine on Shabbos (barring the person being sick), because they were worried one might come to grind medicine on Shabbos (think mortar and pestle), and grinding on Shabbos is a Biblical Prohibition (Tochen).

In the time of the Gemara (and perhaps now, although I'm not aware of it) people would take medicine, in order to sweat for health reasons. The Rabbi's therefore forbade any activity that would cause one to sweat (i.e. exercise) because they were worried that if they permitted exercise, it would lead to people grinding medicine in order to sweat.

See here for more details, and especially take note of footnote 3:

If the purpose of the exercise is to work up an appetite, it is questionable; see Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 301:9. If the purpose of the exercise is to lose weight for health reasons, it may be prohibited, since weight loss can be (partly) accomplished by taking pills. If the exercise is for pure enjoyment, it may be permitted according to the basic halachah, although it may be considered uvda d'chol, "a weekday activity." A rabbi should be consulted.

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