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Franklin Roosevelt (#7) // Getty Images
Franklin Roosevelt (#7) // Getty Images

The Healthy Habits of 15 U.S. Presidents

Franklin Roosevelt (#7) // Getty Images
Franklin Roosevelt (#7) // Getty Images

The presidency is an exhausting job—both mentally and physically. From John Quincy Adams to Barack Obama, many of the men we’ve voted into the White House really understood the importance staying in shape.

1. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS LOVED MORNING CARDIO.

When it comes to personal fitness, early birds have an edge. Studies have shown that morning workouts can curb your appetite, prevent weight gain, and even help you get a good night’s sleep later on. Nobody understood the virtues of morning exercise better than John Quincy Adams. As America’s foreign minister to Russia, Adams would wake up at five, have a cold bath, and read a few chapters from his German-language Bible. Then came a 6 mile walk, followed by breakfast. 

Like all good fitness gurus, the politician enjoyed setting new goals. In 1817, under President James Monroe, Adams was appointed Secretary of State. During his Cabinet tenure, Adams favored skinny dipping over walking (the Potomac River was Adams’s favorite place to take the plunge).

In 1822, he established a personal record by spending 50 minutes out in the Potomac without touching the bottom. The very next year, he did so for 80 minutes. After that feat, though, Adams wasn't allowed to outdo himself—future First Lady Louisa Adams made sure of that. With some help from a physician, she convinced her middle-aged husband to cut his swim time down to hour-long sessions. Undaunted, the Secretary of State got the best out of his shortened workouts by jumping in fully-clothed, which added extra resistance. 

2. JAMES BUCHANAN SELDOM RODE WHEN HE COULD WALK.

Lincoln’s predecessor didn’t often travel via carriage. “I doubt whether Mr. Buchanan used his coach and horses more than a dozen times a year, except during the summer,” wrote James Buchanan Henry, the President’s nephew and secretary. “He greatly preferred the exercise of walking, with its exchange of kindly personal greetings with friends.”

3.  THEODORE ROOSEVELT REGULARLY SHOOK UP HIS ROUTINE.

Of course Teddy had to make this list. At various points in his life, Roosevelt took up wrestling, boxing, hiking, rowing, polo, and judo (in which he became the first American to earn a brown belt). Furthermore, our 26th president also installed the original White House tennis court.

Variety was the spice of TR’s personal workout program. "While in the White House I always tried to get a couple of hours' exercise in the afternoons—sometimes tennis, more often riding, or else a rough cross-country walk,” he wrote in his autobiography. To Roosevelt, who’d been a feeble, asthmatic child, physical activity was more than the means to an end: “I rarely took exercise merely as exercise. Primarily, I took it because I liked it.”

4. WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT CUT CARBS, DROPPED 70 POUNDS. 

“Heaviest president of all time” isn’t the most desirable distinction. At his biggest, Taft weighed in at a whopping 340 pounds. But within nine months of leaving Pennsylvania Avenue, he lost some major league poundage—and kept it all off until the day he died. How’d Taft do it? By cleaning up his diet. The Republican completely axed bread, potatoes, salmon, bluefish, wine, liquor, tobacco, and fatty meats like pork. “I can truthfully say that I never felt any younger in all my life,” he told The New York Times. “Too much flesh is bad for every man.”

5. SILENT CAL INSTALLED A MECHANICAL HORSE.


Despite having been raised in rural Vermont, Calvin Coolidge was allergic to real horses—but he loved to climb onto his electronic mount, which he acquired in 1925. Like a modern bull-riding machine, the calorie-burner came with settings that ranged from trot to full gallop.

6. HERBERT HOOVER PLAYED A CUSTOM-MADE GAME CALLED HOOVERBALL.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

From the start, President Herbert Hoover prioritized working out. “Getting daily exercise to keep physically fit is always a problem for presidents,” he once noted. But Hoover didn’t like many standard exercises, writing, “Once the day’s work starts there’s little chance to walk, to ride, or to take part in a game. Taking walks or rides early in the morning is a lonesome business, and the inevitable secret service guard when the President leaves the White House grounds is not enlivening company.” 

So, after some brainstorming, Hoover and his physician Joel T. Boone conjured up an alternative that was well-suited to the president’s schedule. Inspired by another game called “bull-in-the-ring,” they created Hooverball. Strenuous and fast-paced, the sport more or less looked like a tennis/volleyball hybrid—but instead of a tossing a lightweight object around, players used a 6-pound medicine ball. 

Six days of just about every week during “Bert’s” administration, there was a Hooverball contest. Players generally assembled at the south lawn of the White House, where games started at 7 a.m. sharp and ended half an hour later. As one of Hoover’s friends attested, “It is more strenuous than either boxing, wrestling, or football. It has the virtue of getting at nearly every muscle in the body.”  

7. FDR ENJOYED A GOOD SWIM.

By the autumn of 1921, polio had taken Franklin Roosevelt’s ability to walk without a leg brace—or, at least, that was the case on dry land. Underwater, FDR’s legs were still capable of supporting his bodyweight. So, three times a week, the future president swam in either a private pool or pond. The results were encouraging: Come wintertime, Roosevelt had significantly strengthened his arms, stomach, and lower back. “As a matter of fact,” he told Dr. George Drapper the following year, “I see continuous improvement in my knees and feet.”

Sadly, FDR’s limbs never fully recovered. Still, regular swimming helped them regain more than a bit of their former strength. In 1924, he boasted to a reporter that “I [can] walk around in water 4 feet deep without braces or crutches almost as well as if I had nothing the matter with my legs.”

8. PORTION CONTROL KEPT HARRY TRUMAN SLENDER.

Healthy bodies are made in the dining room. When Harry S Truman was sworn in, he embraced dietary discipline. “I eat no bread, but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets,” he wrote in a 1952 diary entry. “Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast, liver & bacon or sweet breads or ham or fish and spinach and another non fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert.”

Dinner consisted of steak, a fruit cup, healthy veggies, and “an ice, orange, pineapple, or raspberry.” Thus, Truman said, “I maintain my waistline and can wear suits bought in 1935!”

9. DWIGHT EISENHOWER KNEW THE POWER OF GOLF.

During his eight-year administration, Ike squeezed in a staggering 800 rounds of golf. Now considered the “game of presidents,” the sport would help Eisenhower recover when a heart attack struck him in 1955. The timing couldn’t have been worse—Ike would soon be up for re-election. To keep his shot at a second term alive, Eisenhower needed to reassure the public that he was healthy as ever. Before long, Ike hit the golf courses, cameramen took some publicity shots, and the incumbent secured a November landslide.  

10. LBJ MADE TIME FOR NAPPING.

President Lyndon Johnson was both an early riser and a night owl. Generally, his days would start at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and wrap up after midnight. To avoid sleep deprivation, he’d most always grab some post-lunch shuteye. In Johnson’s mind, shedding his morning outfit was an essential part of the process. “The only way to relax,” he said, “is to peel off all your clothes and make believe you’re going to bed for the evening.” Forty-five minutes to an hour later, LBJ woke up rejuvenated. Then it was time to grab a shower and tackle what he called his “second shift.” 

11. WITH AGE, JIMMY CARTER HAS CHANGED HIS TACTICS.

“I was an avid runner until I was 80 and my knees gave out,” Carter told CNN. “I have two new knees and those have worked well. Now I swim regularly at home and when I travel. I’m active around the house and with painting and woodworking.” He and his wife, Rosalyn, also ride around on matching three-wheeled scooters every so often. Carter likens the experience to skating: “It gives you a workout all the way from your ankles up to your shoulders… [and] there’s no jarring to your joints,” he says. 

12. RONALD REAGAN TRAINED ALL MUSCLES EQUALLY.    

In 1983, Parade treated its subscribers to an especially eye-opening read: “How to Stay Fit: The President’s Personal Exercise Program” was a tell-all article penned by the Gipper himself. Reagan traced his workout pattern back to the 1981 attempt on his life. “My calisthenic and gym routine actually started as therapy after the shooting, but doctors say I am now in better shape than when I came to the White House,” he wrote.

Every evening, Reagan would hit the gymnasium—a place where beginners sometimes forget to alternate between arm, leg, and chest drills. The president specifically avoided that mistake. “I have two different sets of exercises I do on alternate days,” he said. “[Most] people don’t realize it, but you can overdevelop a set of muscles at the expense of other muscles and thus reduce flexibility, so it’s important that the routine you develop be well-rounded. All your muscles—not just a few—need exercise.”

13. BILL CLINTON JOGGED RELIGIOUSLY—AND DROVE THE SECRET SERVICE CRAZY.

During his time as President, Clinton jogged up to three days per week. To the chagrin of everyone charged with his safety, those runs mainly took place in public. “He dealt us this nightmare,” former Special Agent Dan Emmett said. Clad in shorts, Clinton was liable to spend over half an hour out in the open during his jogs—sometimes with a congressman or two tagging along. Oftentimes, people who tried keeping pace with the Arkansan found that they couldn’t match his stamina. Not to worry, though: The White House organized a “straggler van” with which to pick up exhausted running buddies.

14. GEORGE W. BUSH: BIKING CONVERT.

The 43rd president was once a devout runner who even completed the 1993 Houston Marathon—which he finished in a respectable three hours, forty-six minutes, and fifty-two seconds. “Running helps me set goals and push myself towards those goals,” he once said. “In essence, it keeps me young. Plus, I just look and feel better.”

When knee pain forced him to change his routine in 2003, W reinvented himself as a cyclist. “He’s an avid rider, a fanatic,” Matt Mannelly—who then headed Cannondale cycling—said in 2006. While on presidential trips, Bush developed a reputation for slipping off to enjoy a ride whenever opportunity allowed. For the White House, the world leader purchased a $1700 indoor cycling trainer. These days, Bush stays in shape with a combination of elliptical machine exercises, core training, golf, weights, and—of course—mountain biking.

15. BARACK OBAMA MIXES WEIGHTS, CARDIO, AND BASKETBALL.

“You’ll have to exercise or at some point you’ll just break down,” Obama told Moneyball author Michael Lewis. The Oval Office’s current occupant kicks off every morning with 45 minutes of either cardio or weight training, but better-known to the public is his passion for hoops. Of the several courts that he uses semi-regularly, Obama prefers the FBI’s—given his age, he cites its smaller size as a big plus. 

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted 

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10 Things to Remember About Memorial Day
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Memorial Day is much more than just a three-day weekend and a chance to get the year's first sunburn. Here's a handy 10-pack of facts to give the holiday some perspective.

1. IT STARTED WITH THE CIVIL WAR.

Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead:

• In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their dead from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery.

• In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. In the same month, in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Major General John A. Logan delivered the principal address. The ceremony gave Carbondale its claim to the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance.

• Waterloo, New York began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the "birthplace of Memorial Day."

2. MAJOR GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN MADE IT OFFICIAL.

General Logan, the speaker at the Carbondale gathering, also was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Orders No. 11, which set aside May 30, 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion."

The orders expressed hope that the observance would be "kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."

3. IT WAS FIRST KNOWN AS DECORATION DAY.

The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn't disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared "Memorial Day" the official name in 1967.

4. THE HOLIDAY IS A FRANCHISE.

Calling Memorial Day a "national holiday" is a bit of a misnomer. While there are 10 federal holidays created by Congress—including Memorial Day—they apply only to Federal employees and the District of Columbia. Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day's pay.

For the rest of us, our holidays were enacted state by state. New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, in 1873. Most Northern states had followed suit by the 1890s. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in General Logan's words, "united to suppress the late rebellion." The South didn't adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country's wars.

In 1971, the Monday Holiday Law shifted Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday of the month.

5. IT WAS JAMES GARFIELD'S FINEST HOUR—OR MAYBE HOUR-AND-A-HALF.

James Garfield
Edward Gooch, Getty Images

On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery—which, until 1864, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's plantation.

Some 5000 people attended on a spring day which, The New York Times reported, was "somewhat too warm for comfort." The principal speaker was James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president.

"I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion," Garfield began, and then continued to utter them. "If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung." It went on like that for pages and pages.

As the songs, speeches and sermons ended, the participants helped to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

6. NOT EVEN THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER CAN AVOID MEDIA SCRUTINY THESE DAYS.

"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." That is the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns, established at Arlington National Cemetery to inter the remains of the first Unknown Soldier, a World War I fighter, on November 11, 1921. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War subsequently were interred in the tomb on Memorial Day 1958.

An emotional President Ronald Reagan presided over the interment of six bones, the remains of an unidentified Vietnam War soldier, on November 28, 1984. Fourteen years later, those remains were disinterred, no longer unknown. Spurred by an investigation by CBS News, the defense department removed the remains from the Tomb of the Unknowns for DNA testing.

The once-unknown fighter was Air Force pilot Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, whose jet crashed in South Vietnam in 1972. "The CBS investigation suggested that the military review board that had changed the designation on Lt. Blassie's remains to 'unknown' did so under pressure from veterans' groups to honor a casualty from the Vietnam War," The New York Times reported in 1998.

Lieutenant Blassie was reburied near his hometown of St. Louis. His crypt at Arlington remains permanently empty.

7. VIETNAM VETS GO WHOLE HOG.

Rolling Thunder members and motocyclists wait for the 'Blessing of the Bikes' to start at at the Washington National Cathedral, May 26, 2017 in Washington, DC
ANGELA WEISS, AFP/Getty Images

On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first Rolling Thunder rally to draw attention to Vietnam War soldiers still missing in action or prisoners of war. By 2002, the ride had swelled to 300,000 bikers, many of them veterans. There may have been a half-million participants in 2005, in what organizers bluntly call "a demonstration—not a parade."

A national veterans rights group, Rolling Thunder takes its name from the B-52 carpet-bombing runs during the war in Vietnam.

8. MEMORIAL DAY HAS ITS CUSTOMS.

General Orders No. 11 stated that "in this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed," but over time several customs and symbols became associated with the holiday.

• It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.

• Taps, the 24-note bugle call, is played at all military funerals and memorial services. It originated in 1862 when Union General Dan Butterfield "grew tired of the 'lights out' call sounded at the end of each day," according to The Washington Post. Together with the brigade bugler, Butterfield made some changes to the tune.

Not long after, the melody was used at a burial for the first time when a battery commander ordered it played in lieu of the customary three rifle volleys over the grave. The battery was so close to enemy lines, and the commander was worried the shots would spark renewed fighting.

• The World War I poem "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrea, inspired the Memorial Day custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 1915, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to veterans and for "keeping the faith with all who died." The sale of poppies has supported the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

9. THERE STILL IS A GRAY MEMORIAL DAY.

Several Southern states continue to set aside a day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day. It's on the fourth Monday in April in Alabama, April 26 in Georgia, June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee, the last Monday in April in Mississippi, May 10 in North and South Carolina, January 19 in Texas, and the last Monday in May in Virginia.

10. EACH MEMORIAL DAY IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT.

Ricky Parada sits at the grave of his little brother Cpl. Nicolas D. Paradarodriguez who was killed in Afghanistan, at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 28, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

No question that Memorial Day is a solemn event. Still, don't feel too guilty about doing something frivolous (like having barbecue) over the weekend. After all, you weren't the one who instituted the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. That credit goes to Indianapolis businessman Carl Fisher. The winning driver that day was Ray Harroun, who averaged 74.6 mph and completed the race in 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Gravitas returned on May 30, 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. Supreme Court Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft dedicated the monument before a crowd of 50,000 people, segregated by race, and which included a row of Union and Confederate veterans. Also attending was Lincoln's surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. in an act of national unity. The time was chosen because 3 p.m. "is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday."

This post originally appeared in 2008.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
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Keystone/Getty Images

You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.

1. MAO ZEDONG TRIED TO GIVE HIM "10 MILLION" WOMEN.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.

2. NO, HE'S NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR DR. STRANGELOVE.

Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.

3. HE WAS QUITE THE LADIES MAN.

Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”

4. PROTECTING HIM ISN'T ALWAYS EASY.

In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”

5. THE STATE DEPARTMENT NIXED HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT.

Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."

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