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Exercise in the 17th Century

Once again I managed to communicate with Spirit guides and my great companion in the Spirit World – Maggi.

As part of the Health and Fitness articles I asked Maggi this question - "How did people keep fit in the 16th century and indeed if they exercised at all?”

If you read my last article you will be aware of the type of diet people had in those days. I think it is safe to say that the difference in diets between the rich and poor was great, apart from a few items such as vegetables. Equally, I find that there was a huge difference between the rich and the poor when it came to exercise, but perhaps not in the way you would think.

Obviously, we cannot talk about individuals but people did not see it as a great need to go out specifically to exercise. There was not a great understanding of fitness and what was nutritionally good or bad for you.

Was there any form of exercise?

For the Rich

Sports such as running, horse riding, tennis, croquet, fencing and swimming – or perhaps a childish game of tag - are some of the activities that they did for pleasure without thinking if it was good or bad for their health. It was more about recreation and leisure. But these were leisure activities for the rich – not the poor.

Men liked to show off their virility and strength (haven’t we always!) and would engage in wresting – a sport that was introduced to Europe in the latter part of the century. This was followed by the introduction of boxing

When women were overweight, they would not think “Oh I must go on a diet”, or “I must exercise more”. They simply put on a corset to emphasise their curves.

If you were financially well off you would have been able to go to a Spa or even have the odd scrub to invigorate the body.

For the Poor

The lower classes were more inclined to actually exercise without even realising it. This would have occurred throughout their daily routine of work where almost everything involved physical labour of some sort - pushing a cart loaded with vegetables/fruit to sell, climbing trees to pick fruit, cleaning, washing, chopping wood, mowing fields, and so on. The poor people obviously could not afford to employ others so they had to undertake all chores themselves, and for the rich who employed them. This physical labour kept them pretty fit and active.

For the Young

Children from a young age were not prompted or encouraged to take physical activities for their health and fitness. Children from the richer families would occupy their spare time with hula- hoops or rags would be tied together and stuffed into the stomach lining of a cow to make a ball.

Children from the poorer families would again be involved in physical daily activity supporting their own families – and if they had free time would simply run and play with each other in the streets.

By talking to Maggi, I realize that exercise and good healthy eating were not specific issues that people concentrated on. Lifestyle was very different back then. They simply did not have the level of disease that we have today, so it was not an issue. What tended to kill people off was illness (like smallpox or plague), which of course is pretty well eradicated in the western world now. It is difficult to measure quality of life - times are now so different. they certainly did not live quite as long as we tend to now (they did not have modern medicines and drugs to keep them going) but were they actually healthier whilst they lived?