health

10 Totally Surprising Health And Fitness Tips From The 1800s

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

As many people do after New Year’s Eve, I decided to set a fitness goal for myself to start things off fresh and re-energized.

And as happens to most, I’ve not done a great job at sticking to that resolution — just like last year and the year before that. To help inspire me to give it a real shot this time, I decided to look into the past to see what the foundation of fitness looked like way back in the day.

It’s fascinating to see how much things have changed since the popularity of gymnasiums and regimented routines began to sweep through Europe before eventually they eventually made their way to America back in the 1800s.

Some of these pioneers’ ideas might not have held fast through the test of time, but you have to admire them for making an effort to help their communities stay active and healthy.

Take a look to see some of the most prominent tips and suggestions from 19th-century experts (or those who claimed to be).

Did we miss any interesting fitness tips you’ve heard about from way back when? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to SHARE with your friends!

Thumbnail Source: Wikimedia Commons

1. Start Your Kids Young

1. Start Your Kids Young

Rather than waiting for kiddos to get to their gym class in elementary school, Eugen Sandow, a renowned bodybuilder from the 1800s, suggested starting them off with weightlifting when they’re as young as 2.

He explained that if he had a child, “I should start him with ½-lb. dumb-bells when he was 2 years old, and then gradually increase the weight with his years.”

2. Don't Bother With Strict Diets

2. Don't Bother With Strict Diets

Again, Sandow admitted to never denying himself whatever he’d like to have for a meal, but did make sure to keep it all in moderation.

“There is no better guide to good living than moderation. Be moderate in all things, and you need fear no interruption in gaining strength by my system of training.”

3. Work Out In Your Finest Suit

3. Work Out In Your Finest Suit

Or your nicest gown if you’re a woman, according to photos from folks using the many exercise contraptions popularized by Swedish physician Gustav Zander. Obviously, this changed quickly over the years as they realized less restrictive clothing helped them work out more effectively.

4. Let Your Corset Do The Work For You

4. Let Your Corset Do The Work For You

Women were encouraged to wear magnetized corsets in order to “recharge the blood,” which they claimed would help with ailments like indigestion and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to keep their weight in check.

5. Stay Active While Sitting

5. Stay Active While Sitting

Sandow advised those who spent their days in sedentary working conditions to simply contract their muscles, gradually flexing harder and harder as they go, and claimed it was just as beneficial as using dumbbells.

6. Join An Outdoor Gym

6. Join An Outdoor Gym

Several fitness experts, including Sandow, praised the benefits of fresh air for fitness. Friedrich Jahn, known as the “father of gymnastics,” taught calisthenics outdoors starting in 1810 and opened the first outdoor gymnasium in Berlin the next year.

7. Toss Around Some Trees

7. Toss Around Some Trees

The Highland Games of Scotland saw a rise in popularity around the 1830s, when one of the most popular tests of strength was “caber tossing,” lifting a roughly 170-pound larch tree pole and throwing it across a field with the hopes that it would land in the opposite position from which it was thrown.

8. Have A Friend Whack Your Back

8. Have A Friend Whack Your Back

And your chest, arms, shoulders — pretty much any other area of your body that feels like it could use a good slap. According to The New Gymnastics for Men, Women, and Children from 1867, “There are few weaknesses within that are not lessened or cured by percussion,” and they recommend doing this at the end of every exercise session.

9. Give Your Shoulders A Whirl

9. Give Your Shoulders A Whirl

This was particularly suggested for young girls by author Catherine Beecher in her 1850 guidebook, Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families, who claimed the exercise was effective for stimulating the blood flow.

10. Grab A Beanbag

10. Grab A Beanbag

Boston resident Diocletian Lewis, also known as Dr. Dio Lewis, founded the Normal Institute for Physical Education in 1860, among several other gymnasiums across the city. He also happened to be the inventor of the beanbag, and he incorporated the squishy product into his exercise routines. Afterward, Lewis claimed his methods were far superior than those gaining popularity in Europe.

Would you ever try any of these health and fitness recommendations? Did we miss any that you’ve heard of from the past? Let us know below, and please SHARE with your friends!