An awareness of the importance of exercise to health remained a mainstay of the health advice literature circulating in Europe from the 12th century, writes Dr Tessa Storey. Plus Margaret Davis on women being forced to exercise by daily chores
Vybarr Cregan-Reid’s discussion of exercise cheerfully, but erroneously, claims that “After the Greeks and Romans, exercise all but disappeared from western culture. It didn’t resurface properly until the 18th century” (The long read, 3 January). In fact, an awareness of the importance of exercise to health remained a mainstay of the health advice literature circulating in Europe from the 12th century. A genre known as the regimen contained advice on how to conserve health and prolong life by managing one’s diet, sleep, bodily hygiene, the passions, by seeking out good air and taking regular exercise. With the advent of print these books became bestsellers. A typical regimen in 1600 would advise on the kinds of pleasurable daily exercise that people should take according to their age, constitution, sex and class. These included the precursors of tennis, football and golf, as well as fencing, dancing, walking and hunting. The extent to which individuals then, as now, adhered to this advice is quite another matter!
Dr Tessa Storey
Co-author (with Prof Sandra Cavallo) of Healthy Living in Late Renaissance Italy
• Vybarr Cregan-Reid’s article took me back to my 17-year-old self in the early 1960s when I noticed that the pavements were mainly occupied by women on foot, often carrying heavy shopping bags, while the road was filled with cars driven by men. This initiated me into feminism and I would bang on about why women, in those days, lived so much longer than men; they were fitter and widowers were a relative rarity.
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