Walt Whitman's Complete Guide to Wellness in 21 Tips

Hulton Archive/Getty Images, iStock
Hulton Archive/Getty Images, iStock

Walt Whitman was more than just one of America’s greatest poets; he was a health guru, too. In a series of columns he wrote under a pseudonym in the New York Atlas in 1958, Whitman expounded on the topic of “manly health,” covering subjects like diet, proper forms of exercise, and the benefits of fresh air. The essays by “Mose Velsor” were rediscovered by a graduate student in 2015 and subsequently republished in a scholarly journal [PDF]. Now, they’re available to readers in the slim, newly released compendium Walt Whitman’s Guide to Manly Health and Training. Here are 21 pieces of (sometimes) timeless advice he had for living a happy, healthy life:


Whitman emphasized endurance, not speed. He wrote (the italics are his), “In robust training for this life, which is itself a continual fight with some form of adversary or other, the aim should be to form that solid and adamantine fiber which will endure long and serious attacks upon it, and come out unharmed from them, rather than the ability to perform sudden and brilliant feats, which often exhaust the powers in show, without doing any substantial good.” Marathons? Awesome. Pole-vaulting? Not so much.


Then, as now, it was easy for students to sacrifice hitting the gym for another hour spent hitting the books. Whitman was a fan of well-rounded scholars, though. “If you are a student, be also a student of the body, a practiser of manly exercises,” he wrote, “realizing that a broad chest, a muscular pair of arms, and two sinewy legs will be just as much credit to you, and stand you in hand through your future life, equally with your geometry, your history, your classics, your law, medicine, or divinity. Let nothing divert you from your duty to your body.”

His wisdom has been borne out by recent studies, which have shown that exercise can boost memory and influence brain growth.


As might be expected from the author of poems like “Song of the Open Road” and “As I Walk, Solitary, Unattended,” Whitman was a huge fan of long walks, which no doubt helped him get his creative juices flowing. “Walking, or some form of it, is nature’s great exercise—so far ahead of all others as to make them of no account in comparison,” he wrote. Some modern doctors agree, saying that a brisk walk is one of the healthiest exercise methods around, even in the age of CrossFit. However, Whitman also recommended rowing, boxing, swimming, and tossing rocks into the air as great workouts.

Reprinted from WALT WHITMAN’S GUIDE TO MANLY HEALTH AND TRAINING Copyright © 2017 by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Art copyright © 2017 by Matthew Allen.


Whitman lived in a time before anti-depressants and mental health awareness campaigns, so his advice on curing the blues—or “the horrors,” as he dubbed it—is understandably a little simplistic. Essentially, he advises extreme exfoliation and taking a walk. He wrote: “If the victim of ‘the horrors’ could but pluck up energy enough, after turning the key of his door-lock, to strip off all his clothes and give his whole body a stinging rub-down with a flesh brush till the skin becomes all red and aglow—then, donning his clothes again, take a long and brisk walk in the open air, expanding the chest and inhaling plentiful supplies of the health-giving element—ten to one but he would be thoroughly cured of his depression, by this alone.”


Though Whitman’s exfoliation advice might not have been super helpful, recent research has shown that exercise can significantly boost moods, even among the clinically depressed. “The observance of the laws of manly training, duly followed, can utterly rout and do away with the curse of a depressed mind, melancholy, 'ennui,' which now, in more than half the men of America, blights a large portion of the days of their existence.” It would be a stretch to say that taking his training regimen could “utterly rout and do away with” depression, but he was right to think that it could help.


Whitman was an early proponent of #selfcare. “Guard your manly power, your health and strength, from all hurts and violations—this is the most sacred charge you will ever have in your keeping,” he declared.


Good posture can improve your breathing and guard against back pain, as Whitman intuited. “Always go with the head erect and breast expanded,” he wrote, “always throwing open the play of the great vital organs, inhaling the good air into the throat, lungs, and stomach, and giving tone to the whole system thereby.”


“The healthy sleep—the breathing deep and regular—the unbroken and profound repose—the night as it passes soothing and renewing the whole frame,” Whitman mused. (He never let things like “complete sentences” get in the way of his writing.) “Yes, nature surely keeps her choicest blessings for the slumber of health—and nothing short of that can ever know what true sleep is.” He was on to something—recent research has shown that sleep is, in fact, vital to our health and happiness. The poet recommended going to bed at 10 p.m. every night. (Arianna Huffington would approve.)


Whitman was definitely a morning person—he advised waking up at dawn or even before—and the preference extended to his workouts, too. “[A man] who is devoting his attention … to the establishment of health and a manly physique,” he wrote, “will do well to spend an hour of the forenoon (say from 10 to 11 o’clock) in some good exercises for the arms, hands, breast, spine, shoulders, and waist; the dumb-bells, sparring, or a vigorous attack on the sand-bags (a large bag, filled with sand, and suspended in such a position that it can be conveniently struck with the fists). This should be done systematically, and gradually increased upon making the exertion harder and harder.”


“Few know what virtue there is in the open air,” Whitman observed. He, of course, was well aware of the benefits. “Beyond all charms or medications, it is what renews vitality, and, as much as the nightly sleep, keeps the system from wearing out and stagnating upon itself.” Still, he probably wouldn’t be a fan of the modern “breatharianism” movement, whose adherents say they can survive on only air. (Whitman believed that a manly diet should include meat, preferably beef, and a lot of it.)


Whitman’s obsession with the outdoors extended beyond just taking the occasional walk. He believed you should never exercise indoors, especially not in a basement or anywhere with low ceilings. “Places of training, and all for gymnastic exercises, should be in the open air—upon the turf or sand is best,” he advised.

Reprinted from WALT WHITMAN’S GUIDE TO MANLY HEALTH AND TRAINING Copyright © 2017 by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Art copyright © 2017 by Matthew Allen.


Dancing wasn’t just fun and games for old Walt. “We recommend dancing, as worthy of attention, in a different manner from what use is generally made of that amusement,” he wrote, “namely, as capable of being made a great help to develop the flexibility and strength of the hips, knees, muscles of the calf, ankles, and feet.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t say which steps are best to cultivate awesome calves.


“The tonic and sanitary effects of cold water are too precious to be foregone in some of their forms,” Whitman wrote. Weirdly, he seemed to believe that a cold bath would open your pores. “You cannot have a manly soundness, unless the pores of the skin are kept open, and encouragement given to the insensible perspiration, which in a live man is thrown off in great quantities, and the free egress of which is of the utmost importance,” he declared.

Though contemporary wisdom holds that warm water opens pores and cold water closes them, pores don’t actually change size depending on the temperature. Still, a little cold water can be healthy. One 2016 study found that people who took cold showers took fewer sick days from work, and a 2014 study suggested that cold water can activate calorie-burning brown fat stores.


Laundry day can play a role in staying fit and manly, according to Whitman. “The clothing of the feet is of importance; clean cotton socks in summer, and woolen in winter, carefully selected as to the size,” he advised. “These are little things, but on such little things much depends—yes, even the greatest results depend. And it is, perhaps, to be noted, that many a man who is mighty careful of his outside apparel—his visible coat, vest, neckcloth, jewelry, etc., is habitually careless of the fixings and condition of his feet.”


Whitman was not a huge fan of the medical profession, such as it was in his lifetime. “Occasionally the advice of an intelligent and conscientious physician may be necessary—and such men are to be found yet,” he conceded. “But, generally speaking, the benefit of medicine, or medical advice is very much overrated. Nature’s medicines are simple food, nursing, air, rest, cheerful encouragement, and the like. The art of the surgeon is certain and determined—that of the physician is vague, and affords an easy cover to ignorance and quackery. The land is too full of poisonous medicines and incompetent doctors—the less you have to do with them the better.” Considering that the practice of bloodletting continued well into Whitman’s time, his wariness wasn’t that unfounded. But today, having a good relationship with your general physician has been shown to improve longevity.


Whitman’s mistrust of doctors didn’t stop him from doling out his own form of quackery, of course. His method of warding off colds? Growing a beard. “The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat—for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be,” he advised. “Think of what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor! Of course, the additional aches, neuralgias, colds, etc., would be immense.”

Reprinted from WALT WHITMAN’S GUIDE TO MANLY HEALTH AND TRAINING Copyright © 2017 by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Art copyright © 2017 by Matthew Allen.


In addition to his passion for clean socks, Whitman strongly believed in investing in quality shoes, preferably custom-made. “Probably there is no way to have good and easy boots or shoes, except to have lasts modeled exactly to the shape of the feet,” he thought. “This is well worth doing. Hundreds of times the cost of it are yearly spent in idle gratifications—while this, rightly looked upon, is indispensable to the comfort and health.”


Long before the Atkins diet or the Paleo craze, Whitman took a stand against carbs. He did, however, allow for the use of potatoes, provided they were boiled and eaten for breakfast. “We have spoken against the use of the potato,” he reminded his readers. “It still remains to be said that if it agrees with you, and you are fond it of, it may be used; it is best properly boiled, at the morning meal. Do not partake of it, however, except in moderation.”


Whitman was a proponent of temperance, but he allowed that the occasional drink could be healthy. “A gentle and moderate refreshment at night is admissible enough; and indeed, if accompanied with the convivial pleasure of friends, the cheerful song, or the excitement of company, and the wholesome stimulus of surrounding good fellowship, is every way to be commended.”


Whitman knew that socializing was an important part of staying healthy. In fact, he recommended hanging out with friends every night. “The evenings ought to be devoted, to some extent at least, to friendly and social recreation (not dissipation, remember),” he wrote. “Friends may be visited, or some amusement, or a stroll in company—or any other means that will soothe and gratify the mind and the affections, friendship, etc.—for every man should pride himself on having such affection, and satisfying them, too.”


In Whitman’s time, paid vacations and jet-setting travel bargains didn’t exist, but he still advised hitting the road every so often. “Often, a complete change of scene, associations, companionship, habits, etc., is the best thing that can be done for a man’s health (and the change is perhaps beneficial to a further extent in his morals, knowledge, etc.),” as he wrote. Studies have found that people who take vacations are less likely to have heart attacks and use fewer anti-depressants than those who slave away 365 days of the year.

Read more of Whitman’s manly tips here. The book is $11 on Amazon.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More


This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.


Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances


- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games


- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets


- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs


- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

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- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World

The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Laurenz Heymann, Unsplash

It seems like the most valuable companies should be those whose products and services we use on a near-daily basis. And according to Forbes’s most recent list, they are: The top five highest-valued brands in the world are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook.

The annual study is based on a complex mixture of metrics that cover revenue and earnings, tax rates, price-to-earnings ratios, and capital employed. Since the data is from 2017 to 2019, the list doesn’t reflect how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the companies in question. That said, it does reflect what many have long assumed: that Big Tech is running laps around all the other industries. The top five are all considered technology companies, as are four others in the top 20 (Samsung, Intel, Cisco, and Oracle). Other companies aren’t in the technology category, but they own lucrative offshoots that are. Disney, in seventh place with an estimated value of $61.3 billion, falls under the “leisure” umbrella—but Disney+ itself would likely be marked “technology.” (Netflix is.)

The list isn’t completely devoid of time-tested classics that don’t involve software or hardware. Coca-Cola edged out Disney by about $3 billion to take sixth place; Toyota placed 11th with a brand value of $41.5 billion; and McDonald’s just cracked the top 10 with $46.1 billion. Louis Vuitton, Nike, and Walmart all also made the top 20.

Just because a brand ranked high on this year’s list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing well (and vice versa). Facebook, for example, suffered a 21-percent decrease in brand value compared to Forbes’ 2019 list—the largest loss of all 200 companies included in the study. Netflix’s brand value, on the other hand, jumped a staggering 72 percent from 2019 to 2020. With an estimated $26.7 billion value, it still missed the top 20 by six spots.

See Forbes’s top 20 below, and check out the full list here.

  1. Apple // $241.2 billion
  1. Google // $207.5 billion
  1. Microsoft // $162.9 billion
  1. Amazon // $135.4 billion
  1. Facebook // $70.3 billion
  1. Coca-Cola // $64.4 billion
  1. Disney // $61.3 billion
  1. Samsung // $50.4 billion
  1. Louis Vuitton // $47.2 billion
  1. McDonald’s // $46.1 billion
  1. Toyota // $41.5 billion
  1. Intel // $39.5 billion
  1. Nike // $39.1 billion
  1. AT&T // $37.3 billion
  1. Cisco // $36 billion
  1. Oracle // $35.7 billion
  1. Verizon // $32.3 billion
  1. Visa // $31.8 billion
  1. Walmart // $29.5 billion
  1. GE // $29.5 billion

[h/t Forbes]