Athletics and recreation are an important part of campus life for many students at MIT, and the Institute encourages everyone to participate in some type of athletic activity.

The Institute supports a broad intercollegiate athletic program offering 33 varsity sports, the largest NCAA Division III program in the nation. While the Engineers' rowing programs compete at the Division I level, MIT's primary league affiliation lies with the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) as a Division III member of the NCAA. Although crew is the only classified Division I program, water polo, sailing, rifle, track and field, squash, cross country, and fencing all compete against Division I opponents.

MIT features one of the nation's most expansive club programs, with approximately 900 participants and 33 teams, a quarter of which are martial arts clubs. All club teams are led and organized by MIT students and are governed by the student-led Club Sports Council. The Institute places all of its club programs into two categories: instructional and competitive. Instructional clubs offer formal training under the supervision of professional instructors, while competitive clubs compete in regional and national-level tournaments, with many ranking in the nation's top 10. The most successful clubs at MIT include sport taekwondo, triathlon, wrestling, ultimate frisbee, rugby, and cycling.

The MIT intramural sports program offers competition in 20 sports of various competition levels, with participation of approximately 3,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Ultimate frisbee, soccer, ice hockey, and badminton are among the most competitive and popular activities.

MIT’s athletic complex, with its 10 buildings and 26 acres of playing fields, is one of the most expansive in New England. Steinbrenner Stadium contains Roberts Field, which features a FieldTurf artificial playing surface and lights, to go along with the Sherie and Don (1961) Morrison Track that was dedicated in 2016. Adjacent to Steinbrenner Stadium is Jack Barry Field. Another FieldTurf venue, it was renovated in 2011 into one of the top facilities of its kind in New England. Fran O'Brien Field (baseball) and Briggs Field (softball) were also fully renovated in 2016, along with various intramural fields. The Johnson Athletic Center houses an indoor track and ice rink. The J.B. Carr Tennis Center features a bubble structure that houses four indoor courts, with the recently renovated duPont Tennis Courts adding 12 outdoor playing courts that now give MIT one of the top tennis facilities in New England. The duPont Athletic Center is equipped with a pistol and rifle range, fencing room, wrestling room, squash courts, the Rudovsky Indoor Golf Range, and additional instructional rooms for dance and martial arts. The Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center features two swimming pools, a fitness center, international-scale squash courts, and a multi-activity court. The Stata Center is home to the Alumni Pool and the Wang Fitness Center. Briggs Field, one of the largest outdoor recreation facilities in the area, provides numerous outdoor recreational opportunities. MIT’s athletic facilities extend to the Charles River with the Wood Sailing Pavilion, as well as the MIT Boathouse, which has undergone a complete renovation that makes it one of the top facilities on the Charles River and in the region.

The General Institute Requirements (GIRs) for all undergraduate degrees include a Physical Education and Wellness Requirement; see that section for further details.