I was reading a little bit about Bob Greene, who is an exercise physiologist, personal trainer and best-selling author. His work on the Oprah show not only improved the host's health and fitness but that of the millions who tuned in to watch. Bob Greene now has a “Best Life” seal which can be seen on grocery store items all around the country. The Best Life seal is helping Americans
pick the best foods and adapt them into their diet.
While Bob Greene is a revolutionist in helping to shape America, he certainly is not a pioneer in the field of health. That road was paved by antebellum (pre-Civil War) health advocates like Catharine Beecher Stowe (sister to the famous author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Thomas W. Higginson, Sylvester Graham and Dr. William Andrus Alcott. These 1800s thinkers helped to shape the health community and answer questions about nutrition, hygiene, women’s fitness and wellness. During a time in American history when there was very little information about the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, high-fat diets and a lack of physical activity, these people were making headway through education.
Catharine Beecher Stowe was leading the way with her views on women’s health. There was a fear that if women exercised their bodies would morph into male figures and lose their feminine qualities. Stowe believed that women needed to engage in movements like calisthenics and light gymnastics. She founded the Hartford Female Seminary in 1823 so that she could collaborate with colleagues and promote women’s health issues.
Another challenge America was facing regarding health, wellness and physical exercise was the fact that many churches frowned upon involvement in sports or exercise. They believed that sports detracted from worshipping God and were an idle waste of time. Thomas W. Higginson was an integral in the movement called Muscular Christianity, which promoted men who were healthy, fit and treating their bodies like temples to God. Higginson wrote a groundbreaking article called “Saints and Their Bodies,” in 1858. This was a stark difference from the limited involvement past religious groups had on health and exercise.
Two other antebellum health reformers, Sylvester Graham and Dr. Alcott, put their stamp on their views concerning health and wellness. Sylvester Graham believed that food could actually help someone make better moral decisions and that proper nutrition brought you close to God. Incidentally, he developed the mild-tasting food called the graham cracker. Dr. Alcott was a leading author encouraging his readers to engage in physical exercise that he deemed “morally” appropriate and that healthy bodies would lead to healthy spirits.
With a limited knowledge and understanding of the body, these health reformers were paving the way for future health minded professionals to come along and pass the torch. When you read about Bob Greene and all that he has done for health in America, it’s fascinating to look back and see how far we have come both in knowledge and technology.