You may not be aware that for 8 years my family lived in the 18th Century. We lived in Virginia prior to our move to the Midwest. From Virginia Beach, to Lynchburg and ultimately Williamsburg we grew to respect and love our country’s history. Our favorite places was Williamsburg. We were surrounded by a wealth of information from historians and interpreters in Colonial Williamsburg (CW to locals), Jamestown settlement, and Yorktown our minds sought to learn all we could. It wasn’t unusual to be walking the Duke of Gloucester Street in CW and have a historical interpreter cross our path. They always stayed in character, which is a wonderful way to learn history.
My favorite people are Jefferson and Franklin. Thomas Jefferson had astounding information about the gardens of the Governors Palace in CW as well as his home Monticello. My children learned to approach these characters and say, “Excuse me Mr. Franklin.” They were never disappointed with the response. I love history.
We can learn so much from the past. In 1789 Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said “In this world nothing is certain, except death and taxes”. Seems a pretty fatalistic and cynical statement to make about two very inevitable things in our lives. Did you realize he made this statement when talking about the United Stated Constitution? Yes, he was 83 years young and in a letter to Jean Baptist Leroy he said “Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing. . .” You know the rest.
In that context I see him as being optimistic. I believe he was an eternal optimist and a realist. Franklin is known for many things, electricity, Poor Richard, Silence Dogood, and his “Virtues. Few people would live as much as he did if they lived 3 lifetimes. He was perpetually full of life and never stopped learning, analyzing and inventing. Reading about his accomplishments I wondered what Franklin would be like as a personal trainer and health coach today. You might be surprised to know he did have knowledge and opinions of health issues too. He was responsible for starting the first hospital in Philadelphia!
In a letter to his son William he writes:
In your[s] [letter] of May 14th, you acquaint me with your indisposition, which gave me great concern. The resolution you have taken to use more exercise is extremely proper; and I hope you will steadily perform it. It is of the greatest importance to prevent diseases, since the cure of them by physic is so very precarious.
In considering the different kinds of exercise, I have thought, that the quantum of each is to be judged of, not by time or by distance, but by the degree of warmth it produces in the body. Thus, when I observe, if I am cold when I get into a carriage in a morning, I may ride all day without being warmed by it ; that, if on horseback my feet are cold, I may ride some hours before they become warm; but, if I am ever so cold on foot, I cannot walk an hour briskly, without glowing from head to foot by the quickened circulation; I have been ready to say, (using round numbers without regard to exactness, but merely to mark a great difference), that there is more exercise in one mile’s riding on horseback, than in five in a coach ; and more in one mile’s walking on foot, than in five on horseback ; to which I may add, that there is more in walking one mile up and down stairs, than in five on a level floor. The two latter exercises may be had within doors, when the weather discourages going abroad ; and the last may be had when one is pinched for time, as containing a great quantity of exercise in a handful of minutes. The dumb bell is another exercise of the latter compendious kind. By the use of it I have in forty swings quickened my pulse from sixty to one hundred beats in a minute, counted by a second watch; and I suppose the warmth generally increases with quickness of pulse.
Do you realize he is prescribing weight lifting and walking? In Franklin’s day bells were an important means of communicating with the community. The “dumb bell” he refers to is a device consisting of a heavy weight which could be suspended from a rope. Bell ringers used it to develop their strength, endurance and expertise to be able to ring church bells. They could also practice without sounding the bells. Dumb means silent, not stupid in this case.
Here’s a man after my heart. He saw the value of lifting weights before we understood bone density and muscle tone. So, if you need more evidence to convince you to exercise look at words of wisdom from the 18th century. Just be glad he didn’t think you should join him in a daily air bath!