Health Tips From the 1600s

People in the past had very different ideas about what was and wasn't healthy. Welcome to the seventeenth century, where doctors believed that disease was caused by the stars, laughing could result in death and fear could literally melt your brain. 

Here are 7 tips from London doctor Stephen Bradwell, who wrote Physick for the Sicknesse, Commonly Called the Plague in 1636 - a book about how not to catch the dreaded pestilence and live a long and healthy life. 

Credit: Wellcome Collection, CC 4.0 licence

Here goes...

Don't get scared
Getting scared can literally melt your brain. As Bradwell writes: "Feare likewise gathers the heat and Spirits to the heart, and dissolves the Brayne, making the moysture thereof shed and slide downe into the externall parts, causing a chilnesse and shaking over the body."

Don't laugh too much
"As laughter, (if unbridled)" says Bradwell, "doth runne even life out of breath, and greatly perplexeth the Body: in so much as the brest and sides are pained, the breath is strained and sometimes the Soule itself is (as I may say) laughed out of her skin." His evidence for this? He once heard of a man that saw a donkey eating figs and "brake into such an unmeasurable laughter, that he fell downe and dyed." 

Don't eat too much. 
Eating too much dinner on your plate in Stuart times was likely to cause "new diseases". You should also take care to wait three hours after your last meal before going to bed, which actually sounds like a good plan because no one wants indigestion. 

Five hours sleep a night is plenty
Honestly, in the seventeenth century there was none of this eight hours a night malarkey. Bradwell reckons five or six hours is plenty for good health. If you go to bed at nine in the evening, that means you'll be ready to get up for work around 3am. It's probably no wonder that caffeine - in the form of coffee and tea - were introduced to Britain by the Stuarts. 

Don't eat too much fruit
Cherries are ok, says Bradwell - and oranges, gooseberries and plums, especially if they're not yet ripe and taste sour. You'll also be alright with lemons, peaches, strawberries and currants. But too much fruit will mess up the temperature and constitution of the body. If you crave a juicier, sweeter fruit, he says just eat "an orange with a little fennell and salt." 

Don't look at anyone with sore eyes
Probably my favourite line in the whole book is this one: "Soare eyes doe by their spiritous beams infect other eyes." 

In an age before cars it's probably not surprising that a Stuart doctor prescribes walking as a good exercise, much like we do nowadays. The best walking, he says, is at a reasonable pace, with your arms swinging. Best to do it outside though, or in a large room without other people in it. 

You can read Stephen Bradwell's book for yourself, on the Wellcome Collection website, under the Creative Commons Licence 1.0. 

What do you think about these seventeenth century health tips? Let me know in the comments below! 

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