Because regular physical exercise is in theory linked to better brain function and is also recommended in another question here on stack exchange, I wonder if there are any famous mathematicians who reputedly adhered to a strict exercise routine.

I already asked this question on Mathematics Stack Exchange but it has been closed for being off topic. So far the following mathematicians were mentioned:







Math and mental fatigue

Capitalizing on cortical plasticity: influence of physical activity on cognition and brain function

Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition

Fitness, aging and neurocognitive function

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    $\begingroup$ I upvoted for benefice of the doubt, but I'm not 100% sure this question will be on topic here. $\endgroup$
    – VicAche
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, a couple of examples I know about area Kenneth Falconer (long distance walking) and Thomas J. Osler (famous for his long distance running exploits). $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2017 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ "when i feel the need to exercise i lay down until it goes away." - RM Hutchins. $\endgroup$
    – mobileink
    Mar 27, 2017 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ Georges de Rham (rock climbing). $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2017 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Hassler Whitney was also a well known mountaineer. publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12199034300/… $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Apr 19, 2019 at 9:49

5 Answers 5


Niels Bohr's brother, Harald Bohr, was a notable mathematician and football (soccer) player.

Harald August Bohr (22 April 1887 – 22 January 1951) was a Danish mathematician and football player. After receiving his doctorate in 1910, Bohr became an eminent mathematician, founding the field of almost periodic functions. His brother was the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr. He was a member of the Danish national football team for the 1908 Summer Olympics, where he won a silver medal.

Bohr was also an excellent football player. He had a long playing career with Akademisk Boldklub, making his debut as a 16-year-old in 1903. During the 1905 season he played alongside his brother Niels, who was a goalkeeper. Harald was selected to play for the Danish national football team in the 1908 Summer Olympics, where football was an official event for the first time. Though a Danish side had played at the 1906 Intercalated Games, the opening match of the 1908 Olympic tournament was Denmark's first official international football match. Bohr scored two goals as Denmark beat the French "B" team 9–0. In the next match, the semi-final, Bohr played in a 17–1 win against France, which remains an Olympic record to this day. Denmark faced hosts Great Britain in the final, but lost 2–0, and Bohr won a silver medal. After the Olympics he made one further appearance for the national team, in a 2–1 victory against an England amateur team in 1910.

His popularity as a footballer was such that when he defended his doctoral thesis the audience was reported as having more football fans than mathematicians.


CHEVALLEY depicts HERBRAND as an adventurous, passionate, and often perfectionistic personality who was not only interested in mathematics, but also in poetry and sports. In particular, he seemed to have liked extreme sportive challenges: mountaineering, hiking, and long distance swimming. His interest in philosophical issues and foundational problems of science was developed well beyond his age.

Wirth, C. P., Siekmann, J., Benzmüller, C., & Autexier, S. (2009). Lectures on Jacques Herbrand as a logician. arXiv preprint arXiv:0902.4682.


Sophus Lie (1842-1899) often went on long, physically demanding hikes. Sometimes he got himself into trouble because of this. In August 1870, after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, he attempted to travel on foot from Paris all the way to Milan, to visit Luigi Cremona and enjoy the scenery of French and Swiss Alps along the way. Unfortunately, he travelled with an expired Norwegian passport, so in Fontainbleau (about 50 kilometers south of Paris) he was taken for a German spy and imprisoned. Of course being in possession of strange-looking notes with some German names here and there did not help him. At the intervention of Gaston Darboux he was released after a month and continued his itinerary on a train. But this incidents did not deter him from hiking. Two years later, when courting his future wife in Norway, he visited her a few times on foot, going about 35-40 kilometers each way. In a letter to her he wrote:

``I have used my Legs in a decent manner during these Days (...). People think that I have very strange Tastes; but this strengthens the Muscles and Nerves, and besides, I find myself with such good feelings, as I roam the Countryside as a Hobo. By habit, I am always deep in my own Thoughts, and building Castles in the Air for the Future: and You quite understand who it is that plays the Main Role..."

(citation after Arild Stubhaug, The Mathematician Sophus Lie. It was the Audacity of My Thinking. Springer 2002 https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783540421375)

He was trying to pass on his passion for outdoors to his children. His daughter recalled that the family went on on a long tour every Sunday. The children were taught skating and had skis imported from Norway, which were still a novelty (and created a sensation) in the German city of Leipzig, where Lie was appointed a professor of mathematics.


Mathematicians do not differ from other people in all respects except their professional activity. So fraction of mathematicians who regularly exercise and involved with some sport is the same as for other people.

For example, all sorts of physical exercises were very popular among the Soviet mathematicians of 20 century, as we can see from their memoirs. (Kolmogorov, Aleksandrov, Uhryson, Vinogradov etc.) Long kayaking and mountaineering trips were especially popular. Most Soviet mathematicians of the middle 20th century participated in them.

Besides kayaking and mointaineering the most popular activities were rowing, swimming, skiing, soccer, volleyball, even weight lifting. There is even a Russian book on this: Sadovskii, Mathematics and sport,



Alan Turing was a very good long distance runner. No one, even someone with the already considerable natural talent required to run that fast, runs a 2:45 marathon without training a lot.

While an example like this does nothing to support or debunk a theory such as "physical exercise is in theory linked to better brain function" it could be the case, as is suggested in the links, that Turing thought something along those lines.


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