The Historical Roots of Today's Diet and Exercise FadsS

Long before the Atkins diet, Shaun T's Insanity Workout, and The Biggest Loser, people have been fascinated by what we eat and how to exercise, for optimal health. Take the famous quotation used by dieters of all sorts, "Eat to live, not live to eat": It was penned by the Roman philosopher Cicero. The field of sports medicine actually started in ancient Greece, when Herodicus, a sports instructor turned doctor, encouraged citizens to exercise vigorously to maintain their health.

Here are some other health tips from the era before television. Maybe incorporate one or two into your regimen, to get a body like a marble statue?

Confucius: The Combination Diet
Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.) gave us our first introduction to combination diets, which encourage dieters to eat specific foods together (eg, vegetables and protein) and avoid others (like acids and starches). Confucius went even more specific, advising his compatriots, "Do not take away the ginger," (which aided in digestion) and "I do not eat if I do not get the proper soy sauce," (because certain meat required certain types of sauce, also thought to aid with digestion.)

Wonder what that means for eggs and ketchup?

Maimonides: Exercise before you eat
Followers of Tim Ferris (known for a laundry list of 4-hour this and that, including The 4-Hour Body) may be familiar with the idea of exercising before eating; supposedly it helps program the body to transport food to fuel muscle growth instead of fat storage.

But Jewish doctor and academic Maimonides came up with the idea first, advising his students similarly back at the turn of the 13th century. (He also said not to eat melon with any other food, avoid combining proteins and starches, and to limit one's intake to two meals a day — so his writings would probably fit right in on the shelves at your local bookstore.) Source: David J. Zulberg. The Life Transforming Diet: Based on Health and Psychological Principles by Maimonides and other Classical Sources. Feldheim, 2007.

The Historical Roots of Today's Diet and Exercise FadsS

Donald Walker: Horse-riding damages women's lady parts
Move over, Women's Health: In his 1836 book Exercises for Ladies, Donald Walker warned women against horseback riding because it would cause them to hunch their right shoulders, develop their waist muscles so they become too thick, cause their voices to become "coarse" from having to talk loudly to be heard by riding partners, and, most notably, "the unnatural consolidation of the bones of the lower part of the body, ensuring a dangerous and frightful impediment to future functions which need not here be dwelt on." The book also goes on to explain the proper posture for typical ladies' activities, like writing and harp-playing, as well as exercises with dumbbells to strengthen their bodies for said pastimes.

The Historical Roots of Today's Diet and Exercise FadsS

Sandwina: Corsets are bad for you (and not sexy, either.)
Born Katie Brumbach, Sandwina was a female performer in the early 1900s who challenged men to wrestle her for money. No man ever beat her (although one, Max Heymann, did end up marrying her; she later used him as part of her act, lifting him over her head with one arm).

She encouraged women of her era to exercise and "do more for their personal hygiene." She also suggested they stay away from corsets: "From the point of view of health, it's a most foolish thing to wear them. And, besides, a man who is embracing a woman wants to hold a supple and warm body in his hands — not a lobster!" Well said, sister. Source: "Talking With: The World's Strongest Woman." Woven Man Spricht, 8 Dec 1910. Reprinted in Iron Game History, Aug 1991, pg 3.

The Historical Roots of Today's Diet and Exercise FadsS

Teddy Roosevelt: Work a desk job? Get to a gym.
In his autobiography, Roosevelt wrote, "[A] man whose business is sedentary should get some kind of exercise if he wishes to keep himself in as good physical trim as his brethren who do manual labor." Sounds a lot like the same thing current researchers wonder about-how much exercise do we need to counteract all the sitting we do in the rest of our lives.

Roosevelt recommended polo, because "There's all the fun of football, with the horse thrown in." He also enjoyed wrestling, although he had to give it up when one fight broke the blood vessels in his left eye, permanently damaging his vision. (He was just thankful it hadn't been his right eye, because then he wouldn't have been able to shoot. That's good ol' Teddy, for you.) Source: Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography. 1922.