Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jefferson ... on the "degeneracy of the human body"

Today’s Americans are continually bombarded with messages urging them to get more exercise, but even centuries ago, America’s Thomas Jefferson thought that the domestication of the horse was to blame for reducing the health of the European-Americans who rode them most often and regularly.  He questioned whether the advantages of riding were greatly outweighed, over the long run, by the disadvantages brought through a reduction in the amount of exercise his countrymen enjoyed.

His thoughts were put on paper in an August 19, 1785 letter to his 15-year-old nephew, Joseph Carr. Jefferson wrote: “The Europeans value themselves on having subdued the horse to the uses of man. But I doubt whether we have not lost more than we have gained by the use of this animal. No one has occasioned so much the degeneracy of the human body. An Indian goes on foot nearly as far in a day, for a long journey, as an enfeebled white does on his horse, and he will tire the best horses.”

Several of Jefferson’s letters include his extensive thoughts on the value of exercise – and walking in particular – are provided on the website for Monticello, his home in Virginia.

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