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‘Gelukkig gezond!’ exhibition examines history of a healthy lifestyle

14 June 2017

Healthy living is popular. We go to the gym, eat superfoods, have power naps and our bathrooms are mini wellness centres. But how new is this trend? The exhibition ‘Gelukkig Gezond! Histories of Healthy Ageing’ shows that since antiquity a healthy lifestyle has been linked to six factors that are equally relevant today: environment, diet, exercise, sleep, detox and emotions. These topics form the backbone of the exhibition at the University Museum in Groningen, which opens on 22 June 2017.

Healthy ageing in the past

Healthy ageing, or the question of how to stay healthy as we become older, is the main challenge of our times, because we have never been faced with such an ageing population. But healthy ageing is common to all times. In the past people also wanted to stay healthy and active as they aged. What is more, the elements that we now consider essential to healthy ageing were a prominent feature of medicine even before 1800. It was only from the 19th century, with the emergence of hospitals, laboratories and x-rays, that the emphasis in medicine came to lie on disease and healing rather than rules for good health.


We seem to be returning to these rules now. With the prospect of a large group of elderly people and the fact that old age comes with its failings, it has become necessary for medicine to consider an approach that focuses on quality of life, preventing pain and discomfort, and, in the end, a dignified death.

Geert Adriaans Boomgaard on his 100th birthday with his sister (98) and brother (96). Photo from Groninger Archieven. Edited by Dirk Fennema
Geert Adriaans Boomgaard on his 100th birthday with his sister (98) and brother (96). Photo from Groninger Archieven. Edited by Dirk Fennema

The oldest man in the world

One of the stories at the exhibition is of Geert Adriaans Boomgaard (1788–1899) from Groningen, the first Dutchman to be recognized as the oldest man in the world. His advanced age made him a celebrity in the Netherlands. A photo taken on his 107th birthday appeared on a postcard that was sent throughout the country. Even Queen Emma had one.

Six ‘non-naturals’

The exhibition ‘Gelukkig Gezond’ makes visitors think about past ideas on health and healthy living. The thematic exhibition concentrates on the main themes of current thinking on healthy ageing and the health advice from before 1800. At that time health was mainly determined by the six ‘non-naturals,’ the lifestyle and environmental factors defined by Hippocrates already to assess someone’s health: environment, diet, excretions, exercise, sleep and emotions. The history of these factors is central to the exhibition.

International conference Histories of Healthy Ageing

The exhibition is not an isolated event but is part of the NWO Vidi project ‘ Vital Matters: Boerhaave’s Chemico-Medical Legacy and Dutch Enlightenment Culture’ of University of Groningen researcher Dr Rina Knoeff. An international conference Histories of Healthy Ageing (21-23 June 2017) will also be held at the University.

Gelukkig Gezond at the University of Groningen Museum
22 June 2017 – 31 January 2018
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 1–5pm
Admission free

For more information

Rolf ter Sluis (University Museum), Rina Knoeff (Vital Matters)

Last modified:15 June 2017 12.12 p.m.
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