Move and Be Healthy: C.C. Cody’s Day at the Battle Creek Sanitarium

Program of the Day

Program of the Day


The Battle Creek Sanitarium reception created “Programs for the Day” based on the orders given by the doctors at the facility. The program consisted of the daily schedule and special notices for each particular day. Along with health talks and a morning worship, the physicians at the sanitarium had the patients participate in gymnastics, which are physical movements that improve health. Each person would schedule an appointment to meet with the Physical Director, who would assess the patient and give a specified gymnastic regimen that would be performed during designated hours. Doctors would prescribe gymnastics because of the positive health benefits it has on the body. Medical gymnastics was considered very important during the early 20th century because Americans believed that the “neglect to use all the powers our well-formed body has brought, and always will bring, could produce countless ills upon our race. For by these means alone, can the organic changes and renewals, which are the foundation of the whole chemical process of life, can be kept in working order”1. More time during the day was dedicated to gymnastics because of its importance to the Battle Creek Sanitarium’s beliefs and practices. The “program” gives insight into the services given at the Battle Creek Sanitarium and the importance of each activity.

            Swedish gymnastics and massages were used at the Battle Creek sanitarium along with other physical activities that improve health. Many different types of movements are used in Swedish gymnastics. Among them you may find active movements, which are “any kind of movement that produces muscle action”, free active movements, where “the patient performs the movement by his/her own force or free will”1, resistive movements, which can be described in two ways, “patient performs the movement whilst the gymnast gives resistance in proportion to the strength of the patient and the desired result or where the gymnast performs the movement with a part of the patient’s body whilst the patient makes resistance”2. Swedish gymnastics consists “principally in movements of resistance, which can only be carried out with the help of skilled gymnastics or complicated apparatus”. These movements are more body weight based than free weight, which means that the person exercised using their own weight as their resistance as opposed to extra weight being added to them. The equipment used was more of a base of support to stretch around and push off against in order to create resistance. At Battle Creek, physicians would perform the stretches or resistant forces on the patients or have the patients do the movements themselves after explaining the correct procedure. Each part of the body from the head to the fingertips to the toes had certain movements designed for it. (image)

            In order to carry out the gymnastics properly, physicians had to be knowledgeable in the different Swedish movements and their effects on the body. The physicians who are specialized in gymnastics and their benefits would tailor a gymnastic regimen to the patients based on what they wanted to improve with their body. If someone had heart problems or joint problems, the movements would focus on improving those issues. The Swedish gymnastic method is “especially valuable in the treatment of men and women suffering from sedentary habits”3.  The gymnastic movements serve multiple purposes for the body. For example, abdominal kneading is supposed to “influence digestion and helps valvular lesions of the heart where there is a venous congestion in the digestive apparatus”2. The combination of gymnastics and electrical and hydrotherapy (other services provided by the sanitarium) produces a “most satisfactory and efficient means known for developing the abdominal muscles and the trunk”2. Many other health benefits are supposed to be achieved through these movements. “Absorption, secretion and excretion, respiration, circulation, etc.”2 are some bodily systems gymnastics effects. Wide and Gaftsrom wrote about the different types of exercises and the effects they had on the body.

            The exercise resources were limited at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Many of the gymnastics were outdoors or consisted of little equipment. The “Program for the Day” had the patients exercising multiple times during the day. The sanitarium kept a strict schedule for their patients. This facility focused on improving health and each hour at the Battle Creek Sanitarium consisted of an activity designated for that purpose. For example, if a patient was having heart problems or complications with their digestive system, specific exercises were targeted to those issues. The program also mentioned that patients enjoyed some time off to relax or read a book from the library. The sanitarium’s schedule was heavily gymnastic based, but other activities did take place such as “walking parties, music in the parlor, informal receptions, and an Indian club drill”.  The walking parties had instructors who were knowledgeable in birds and trees and would explain in detail the “teachings of the great book of Nature”3.

            The doctors during the time of the Battle Creek Sanitarium would call physical activity gymnastics. Now, gymnastics is a certain type of sport not related to the types of exercises being performed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The pictures and descriptions of some of the gymnastic movements would now be called static or dynamic stretching. Although there are differences in terminology and gymnastic movements from back then to now, it is agreed that keeping the body moving and physically active is pertinent to living a healthy lifestyle and preventing diseases.

By Bernice Leonard

  1. Moritz, Daniel G. "Medical Indoor Gymnastics or A System of Hygenic Exercises for Home Use to Be Practised Anywhere without Apparatus or Assistance by Young and Old of Either Sex for the Preservation of Healthe and General Activity." Medical Indoor Gymnastics or A System of Hygenic Exercises for Home Use to Be Practised Anywhere without Apparatus or Assistance by Young and Old of Either Sex for the Preservation of Healthe and General Activity. Accessed April 24, 2016.
  2. Kellogg, J. H. "The Battle Creek Sanitarium System." Google Books. Accessed April 24, 2016.
  3. Gustaf, Anders. "Hand-book of Medical and Orthopedic Gymnastics : Wide, Anders Gustaf, 1854- : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive." Internet Archive. Accessed April 24, 2016.