Histories of




Groningen, 21–23 June 2017

Why history?


As Western populations grow increasingly older, 'healthy ageing' is presented as one of today's greatest medical and societal challenges. However, contrary to what many policy makers want us to believe, the aspiration to live long, healthy and happy lives is not a problem specific to our times. On the contrary successful ageing has a long history.

The Histories of Healthy Ageing (HHA) conference is based on the assumption that 'healthy ageing' has informed the medical agenda since Antiquity. With 'healthy ageing' we refer to ways of thinking about and treating the body not only from a medical perspective, but also taking into account questions of what constitutes a happy and fulfilled life. In particular these latter issues were central to medicine before 1800 and relate to healthy living as much as to questions connected specifically to old age.

Thus whether we speak of classic ways of training the athlete's body, medieval religious rites, the pre-modern obsession with regimen (rules for living a healthy life), or the upper-class fancy to visit spas, at the root of it all was a wish for wellbeing, health and longevity.

What are the


The Histories of Healthy Ageing conference is structured according to the so-called non-naturals, the six areas defined by Hippocratic writers as the basis of health management and disease prevention. Each keynote lecture centres on one of the non-naturals.


Whoever wants to understand the nature of health and disease, Hippocrates wrote, first needs to understand the air we breath, the water we drink, and the grounds we live on.

Groningen was known for its healthy air.


Proper exercise, depending on your age, sex, constitution, will keep you healthy and strong. Besides muscular motion, exercise included horse-riding and external application, such as bathing and massage.



Throughout history, eminent physicians considered bad eating habits to be the principal cause of chronic diseases. A balanced diet was vital for good health and the most effective in keeping chronic diseases at bay.


Don't retain what should be excreted, and don't excrete what should be retained. If you spit too much, you'll loose your appetite. If you suppress your pee, it hurts your bladder and kidneys. And don't obstruct perspiration to avoid all kinds of ailments.


When awake, your fibres vibrate and your fluids are more irregular. So make sure you get enough sleep to relax your solids, to balance the fluids, and reinvigorate your mind.



Be ever mindful of your emotions. Anger and joy may overstimulate circulation, digestion, and perspiration, while fear and sorrow may weaken and obstruct. The combination of love and lust enkindled lovesickness.



From 22 June 2017 to 31 January 2018, the Groningen University Museum presents the exhibition Gelukkig Gezond! Histories of Healthy Ageing. Today, we seem more obsessed with our health than ever. We go to the gym in huge numbers and eat superfoods; we take power naps and are into mindfulness; our bathrooms are little wellness centres and we seek fresh air in specially allocated green zones. But is this really just a modern trend?

As the exhibition Gelukkig Gezond! Histories of Healthy Ageing shows, we have in fact always been fixated on staying healthy. For many centuries, a healthy lifestyle was understood in the context of six lifestyle factors: climate, diet, exercise, sleeping patterns, detox and emotional balance. The exhibition will look at the history of these factors and how they relate to modern ideas of health.

© Histories of Healthy Ageing

Conference Organisers: Dr. Rina Knoeff (chair), Dr. James Kennaway, Ruben Verwaal, Prof. Catrien Santing, Rolf ter Sluis

Research Institute for the Study of Culture, University of Groningen,

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26, 9712 EK, Groningen, The Netherlands

Contact: info@historiesofhealthyageing.nl



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