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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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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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