The definition of ‘good health’ and how to acquire it has changed over time. From the medieval practice of religious prayer and sacrifices to ward off disease to up-to-the-minute brain scans to understand mental health and psychological conditions.
Over many centuries of progression and change, can history actually teach us anything about how to be healthy and happy today? Taking three periods of history, let’s see what the accepted ideas for feeling better were and how we can apply these in modern society.
- The Tudors: 1485 – 1603
You may be thinking, “What on earth can the Tudors possibly have to show us about good health today?” And in many ways, you’d be right. The Tudor period was rife with disease, epidemics, poverty, malnourishment, and had virtually zero personal or public hygiene practices. Going to a doctor was expensive, sometimes costing three months’ wages, so they were rarely consulted by most of the population, and medicine was still centred on medieval traditions such as bloodletting, in which blood was withdrawn from people using leeches to cure or prevent illness.
Instead of doctors, people turned to herbs and spices to support their health. Although these remedies were no match for the serious infections prevalent 500-plus years ago, there are multiple health benefits to consuming more herbs and spices. In fact, the variety of herbs and spices used in the Tudor period was far more extensive than we use today.
There is plenty of modern evidence to show that herbs and spices contain useful antioxidants which can support physical health. Studies have shown that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar, turmeric can help reduce inflammation, ginger can lessen nausea, garlic is good for the heart, and coriander can promote gut health. So, try adding more herbs and spices to your food to boost not only the flavour of meals but also your health. *
- Regency: 1811 – 1820
The Regency period, made famous by Jane Austen’s novels set in the time period, was still fraught with contagious diseases, and there had been little scientific advancement in medical procedures. What was frequently prescribed by doctors at the time was sea bathing and taking the sea air. It was recommended to restore health and increase resilience to further illness. Austen writes about characters’ visits to the seaside in some of her novels, such as Persuasion, in which Anne Elliot had “the bloom and freshness of youth restored” after spending time in Lyme Regis.
Is the seaside good for your health? Research would suggest it is. For a start, the sound of waves has an immensely calming effect and can help you feel more relaxed and happy. Think about how many apps use the sound of waves to induce meditative states or help us fall asleep. Then there are the psychological benefits of being in nature, surrounded by the rich hues of the sea, walking along sandy shores and watching the sun rise and set over the distant horizon.
And many people visit the sea with family and friends, enjoying a sense of togetherness and fun activities like surfing, fishing, and swimming. One other benefit to the seaside is breathing in the sea air. It contains negative ions, and these help improve oxygen absorption and, in turn, our energy levels. So, plan a day at the seaside for all-around health benefits.
- The Victorians: 1837 – 1901
On the 30th of March 1851, a religious census was carried out in England and Wales to see how many adults and children went to a service on that particular date. The census return showed that almost 61% of the entire population was at some form of religious service that day. In 2018 a similar survey carried out on British social attitudes to religion reported that only 11% of the population attended religious services once a week or more. The drop in attendance figures has multiple causes.
However, going to church has been shown to improve wellbeing. It can reduce stress, foster positive relationships, provide you with a sense of meaning, and offer a peaceful environment and comfort through difficult times in your life.
This point here is not to tell you to go to church, per se. Rather it’s about the mental and emotional benefits of being a part of a community with shared values. Where can you find a sense of community and be with people who understand and support you? This can be a religious or spiritual community, but it could also be simply a group of people who love playing board games. It could be going to do voluntary work at an animal welfare centre, joining a regular yoga class, or connecting with climate activism organisations. As long as the community group you choose has your best interests at heart and feels safe, this is a good way to introduce more joy into your life.
These are just three ideas which have been shown to help with physical, emotional and mental health. Give one, or all three, a go and see what happens!
* It’s always important to talk with your doctor if you’re thinking of using herbal supplements as a way of accessing their health benefits.
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