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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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Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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