John D. Rockefeller, Senior was born in the 19th century, and lived to be just under 98 years old when he died in 1937. He was the richest man on earth while he was alive, yet, given his vast fortune, he was quite modest. This oil tycoon is rarely discussed from the health and wellness perspective, but that’s the perspective that I tend to view things from. As I was reading his biography, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr, written by Ron Chernow I noticed general themes throughout the book that were consistent with health principles and practices we are familiar with today; things we know to be true if we want to live healthier, longer, and happier lives.
Despite being the richest man on earth at the time, giving him the ability to indulge in just about anything he wanted to, Rockefeller maintained a lean weight of 155 pounds in his prime – this compared to the portly figures of other tycoons. (Fun fact: Fat Clubs started showing up in the early 1900s, right around the time Rockefeller was achieving a level of wealth unprecedented in the modern world – and others were achieving unprecedented waistlines.)
Believe it or not, Rockefeller can teach us much more than just how to become wealthy. He can also teach us how to live longer. Rockefeller was a health freak; there’s no other way to say it. He couldn’t understand why someone would eat unhealthy foods if they knew they were bad for them. When he wanted ice cream, he asked his doctor if he could have permission to do so, rather than just taking the spoon and indulging himself. These are just some amusing examples of health principles he applied to his own life. I’ve discerned and briefly elaborated on a total of 10 principles from reading Rob Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Enjoy!
1. Eat in moderation.
Rockefeller didn’t overeat. He was lean his entire life – maybe even too lean, even though this was understandable given all of the legal battles and criminal cases he went through.
2. Abstain from alcohol.
John D. was a devout Baptist, and he barely even tolerated dancing. Alcohol, playing cards, and smoking were things that he never did. This isn’t to say that you can’t be healthy if you drink alcohol, but it is a reminder to consume in moderation.
3. Go to bed on time.
Rockefeller always went to bed at 10:30 PM. He kept a VERY strict schedule.
4. Take afternoon naps.
Rockefeller kept a couch in his office and in boardrooms. He would stretch on his couch while his associates would conduct a meeting. Even so, he was never completely asleep during these naps, and every now and then he would interject with his suggestion or to ask a pointed question.
5. Make time for exercise.
Rockefeller made exercise a part of his life. He rode horses when he was younger, worked out six days per week (there was no work on Sundays for John D), and he even had exercise equipment in his office. The Chernow book, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr, has a particularly amusing story involving John D using exercise equipment at his office in Cleveland, and being told off by a young executive to stop what he was doing because he was making too much noise. (In typical John D fashion he humbly and quietly obliged, instead of reprimanding the young man for yelling at his boss.)
6. Maintain your composure.
John D never seemed to get angry. He never lost his temper in public, and was extremely Stoic (even though he probably didn’t read Stoicism, because he wasn’t much of a reader aside from religious texts), and this helped him to avoid unnecessary stress.
7. Slow and steady wins the race.
Rockefeller focused a great deal on maintaining consistent energy levels and not overexerting himself. He moved slowly, yet deliberately, spoke softly, yet in a captivating manner, and almost never got worked up. He maintained consistently moderate levels of energy throughout the day. He didn’t get jacked up on caffeine and take sleeping medication to go to sleep – he worked slowly and steadily, and it was not until his 50s that he began to suffer nervous breakdowns, and this because he was an actual fugitive from the law at this time, avoiding residence in certain states because he was wanted in court there.
8. Do what you think is healthy – even if it’s not!
There is much to be said for the power of our minds and placebo effect. Even though much of what John D did are things that we would consider to be unhealthy today, he lived an extremely healthy life. For instance, he drank skim milk, ate lots of crackers, and his personal doctor practiced homeopathy, a system of medicine that has long been disproven as ineffective. But he still lived to be 98, and I am convinced that one reason for this is because John D firmly BELIEVED that what he was doing was healthy. Believe in your good health, and you might just have it.
9. Set your schedule, and don’t let other people mess with it.
Rockefeller had a very set schedule, especially in his later years. He religiously kept to that schedule, and did not allow anyone or any circumstance to change it. We might not have the flexibility or power that Rockefeller did (unless you’re a yoga master maybe LOL), but we can still say “no” when we need to in order to make sure that our schedules help keep our stress levels low and allow us to do what we want and need to do throughout the day.
10. Chew your food.
Apparently John D gave lots of health advice to his dinner guests, particularly in the area of digestion. Part of this included chiding his guests to chew each bite a certain amount of times, and to allow 45 minutes for digestion after finishing their meals. This is great advice, because, as a friend of mine recently put it, “your stomach doesn’t have teeth”. Break down your foot before you swallow it, or you won’t get as much out of it.
Of course, habits aren’t everything. Rockefeller genes appear to be INCREDIBLY long-lasting. Rockefeller’s father, William Rockefeller Sr, lived to be 95 years old, despite drinking, smoking, and having a reputation as a partier. Rockefeller’s grandson, David Rockefeller, lived to be 101 years old, passing away in late-March 2017.
You don’t need to follow all of the habits above in order to be healthy. Choose what you find useful, and leave the rest behind. If you want to learn more about my own health principles, check out a few of the other blogs I have on this website below: