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Topic section: Looking after ourselves
Looking after ourselves
Most of us try to look after ourselves, to balance the stresses of our everyday lives. Many people, asked how they feel, will immediately re
Image: Three bronchitis amulets, English, 1914

These amuletic bracelets, collected by the folklorist Edward Lovett, were sold as a form of protection against bronchitis. Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

fer to the balance of life and their successes or failures in looking after themselves. For example, some people say they are fed up with the noise and dirt of city life and others feel they’ve been putting away too much booze and junk food, or they can’t get around to taking exercise. Often people will confess that they’ve been burning
'modern food is suspected of harbouring new terrors'
the candle at both ends, that they’re putting on weight and stressed out. These six categories of feeling, familiar as they are to us today, also echo ancient ideas about the factors that need to be balanced to ensure good health. They occur in the writings of the influential Greek doctor Claudius Galen, who lived in second-century Rome, and they came to be known by his followers, for technical reasons, as ‘the six non-naturals’ - in the language of the eighteenth century: airs, waters and places; food and drink; motion and rest; sleep and wakefulness; evacuation and retention; and passions of the soul.

It is striking to note how these archaic ideas still resonate with us. They may not be medically current, but they persist in our ideas of wellbeing. For exa
Image: Large glass bottle containing glass amulets, French, c 1870-1920
Amulets have been used since ancient times to ward off evil spirits and protect their owners against disease.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
mple,we may scoff at the idea that the quality of air determines the healthiness of a place, and yet half think that the air of mountain districts, the countryside or the seaside has a salubrious quality absent in the city. Equally, modern food is suspected of harbouring new terrors - trans-fats, E-numbers, excess salt and sugar - to name but a few. But what makes for a healthy diet - fresh ingredients simply cooked - has an enduring appeal that dates back centuries.
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Topic section: Diagnosing ourselves
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Most of us participate in self-diagnosis at some level. In many cases, if we do eventually choose to visit the doctor, we have already decided what is wrong with us.  > more

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Topic section: Treating ourselves
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Many of us opt to take a more ‘holistic’ approach to treatment than modern medicine seems to favour. The use of ‘alternative medicine’ by so many has brought the practice into the mainstream.  > more
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