The Ancient Greek physician Galen (circa 130 - 200 AD) recorded many interesting ideas on this subject, which was later expanded by other medics in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Although many centuries have passed, many discoveries of antiquity are still adhered to by modern medicine.
The greatest physician of Antiquity
Galen spent his youth learning about sickness
and treatments before he moved to Rome in the year 162. He has gone down
into History as much for his medical discoveries as for his tremendous
output as a writer. Even though a great part of Galen's work has been
lost, what remains fills more than 20 volumes.
medical truths in short sentences, reflect fundamental aspects of
physical and mental health. One of the threads that runs through his
writings is the search of simplicity. His advocacy of straightforward
methods to improve man's well-being contrasted with the semi-magical
medicine that was still being practised by most of his contemporaries.
maintained that health and philosophy are closely connected. As a
consequence, a man who wishes to maintain his vitality will do well to
act prudently and respect ethical principles. Galen's four prescriptions
for preserving health do not demand large financial resources and can
be followed by most people. Here is a summary of his four
Vegetables, fruits, and herbs
At the time
of Galen's writings, the biochemical properties of vitamins and minerals
had not yet been discovered. Nevertheless, what he had learned from
other physicians and his own observations led him to
recommend vegetables, fruits, and herbs on many occasions. Nowadays,
those are items that most people can afford to purchase without making
Ancient medicine believed that each
element in the universe had a purpose. This conviction led Galen to
experiment with different dietary treatments in response to sickness.
His goal was to find the right combination of elements that fulfilled
the purpose of health recovery. A balanced, prudent diet was also
advocated in the Middle Ages by Maimonides, a famous physician who was
familiar with Galen's work.
Do moderate exercise
modern times favour body building and other forms of muscle training,
Galen was an advocate of moderation. In his own life, he gave example of
this precept by avoiding strenuous assignments. When he was offered a
post of physician in the Roman army marching against the barbarians in
Northern Europe, he declined and stayed in Rome.
of Galen's aphorisms says that sickness caused by excessive strain
should be cured by rest. In this sense, the inordinate professional
stress that many people endure in our age should not be exacerbated by
further tensions in their private life.
Spending time with
friends, cultivating hobbies, and enjoying art will do more to
re-establish balance in your life than watching television or practising
demanding sports. Galen also recommended walking as a beneficial form
Practise good hygiene
Even though bacteria and
viruses had not yet been discovered in antiquity, Galen's books show
that he was conscious of the major role that external influences play in
human health. The purpose of medicine, he wrote, was to re-establish
the patient's health in relation to his environment, taking also the
seasons into account.
Galen's early training as physician took
place in Greece, which at that time comprised part of the Middle
East. Ancient Greeks considered thermal baths salutary and those
attracted far-away visitors seeking to cure physical or mental illness.
those days, a journey to a renowned thermal location involved
disproportionately high costs that few individuals could afford.
Luckily, modern plumbing, shampoo, and tooth brushes now allow
practically everybody to enjoy excellent levels of hygiene
Maintain a good balance
The need to preserve the natural limits of life is a theme
that permeates Galen's books. The best way to maintain our health, he
wrote, is to adopt preventive measures to counterbalance excesses.
warned against lack of moderation and advocated measures against
exaggerated eating as well as against insufficient food intake.
Similarly, he advised to avoid excessive immobility and immoderate
exercise. The purpose of prevention should be to maintain the natural
balance in all areas
of our lives.
Galen's principles emphasize the importance of
preserving health at the same time as the need to do it in a simple and
straightforward manner. By all means, do elevate health to your first
priority, but make it a cheap and workable one. Your goal should be to
develop effective habits that maintain your vitality with minimum effort
For more information about
rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book
10 Principles of Rational
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