Alphabe Thursday X is for Exercise.
Running or walking on a treadmill at the gym has become the normal way to get exercise and preferred by many to using the streets and country lanes.
However, as a form of exercise this is not new. In 1818 the treadmill was invented by William Cubitt of Ipswich and erected in the House of Correction at Brixton, London. It had a large wheel with steps where several prisoners trod for set periods. Although it was used to power grain mills and other machinery it was not used for production but as a way to break down an ‘obstinate spirit’
Medical officers in various prisons using the mill noted that the general health of the prisoners was not harmed, in fact it seemed there was a marked improvement. Vagrancy, or wandering without apparent resources or purpose was and sometimes still a crime and doing time then on a treadmill was the perfect punishment.
Repetitive labour has been punitive since the gods of Greek myth sentenced Sisyphus, the robber and murderer to the fate of pushing a boulder up a hill, as he reached the top so it it rolled back down to the bottom where he had to begin again.
We don’t know whether Sisyphus was the first tread-miller, but he was not the last and it is easy to recognise the ancient attitude to repetitive bodily exertion without any practical results.
Throughout history and still in some places in the world, where food is scarce and physical exercise normal, the ‘doing’ of exercise is futile ; it is only when the the two are reversed does exercise make sense.