What can we learn from health advice dated 1733? Surprisingly much

Thomas Arctaedius
4 min readJan 8, 2021
Sami people photo by unknown — This image is available from the US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division under digital ID ppmsc.06257

In the 18th century the average life expectancy in Sweden was around 35 years for men (in 2020 it is 81 years). The first real hospital in Sweden, intended exclusively for curing diseases, was opened in 1752 in Stockholm. So, is there anything we today can learn from health advice given in the early 18th century?

Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician. On May 12, 1732, the 25 years old Carl set out on a dangerous voyage to the northern part of Sweden — Lapland where the Sami people lives. The trip to Lapland was a big and expensive adventure that was paid for by the Royal Society of Sciences in Sweden. We can understand that the trip was considered dangerous because Linnaeus “bequeathed” all his scientific writings and manuscripts to his friend Petrus Arctaedius before he left. The trip was successful and Carl returned to Uppsala after five-months.

Linneus wearing the traditional dress of the Sami people of Lapland, holding the twinflower, later known as Linnaea borealis,: By Martin Hoffman — Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Public Domain.

After his adventurous and inspiring trip to Lapland, on April 29, 1733, Carl Linnaeus begins writing a manuscript that he called — “Diæta naturalis” (natural diet) which is a collection of health rules that; according to Linnaeus “with whose benefits people can push their age to double length without illness”. The rules are very much about living a natural life. He referred to how the Sami people managed to maintain health much better than the over civilized groups of society. Carl Linnaeus believed that those who followed the principles of nature could reach double life expectancy. In his texts the pale-powdered noblewoman was contrasted with the healthy rose-skinned peasant girl.

Photo of page in Diæta naturalis

The rules are 136 in number. He didn't want to write a medical book or a cook-book but instead some short and simple rules that could be follow by everyone. The text is written in Latin which was the language the scholars wrote their texts in.

Excerpt of the rules

Thomas Arctaedius

Professor in entrepreneurship, PhD in Nuclear Physics. Entrepreneur and researcher. From Stockholm Sweden