Vitality Supreme by Bernarr MacFadden may have been his best book (and he wrote many). It is one of his most well-known. Many of his other books go into one specific area of health, for instance the eyes, or nerves, but this is an all around health book. So anyone looking to see what Bernarr MacFadden is all about would be wise to start here.

For this month we went a little outside of strength to talk about health. The truth is they’re all related anyway, and the words physical culture mean both health and fitness. All of the books we’ve covered so far in fact have talked about health along with strength. This one is just more about health, with only basic exercises thrown in.

bernarr macfaddenLet me tell you a little bit about Bernarr MacFadden. He was called the Father of Physical Culture, for the huge influence he had on it. At the same time he was quite extreme. While in certain cases he may have gone overboard (like pushing his family to follow all his ideals, to the point where they all hated him for it) he also was a pioneer and had many great ideas. The best part is you can pick and choose, and experiment to find what you can take from him and incorporate into your own life. We will be detailing each chapter in turn.


“Vitality first of all means endurance and the ability to live long.”

“One may  say that  magnetism  and  all  the desirable qualities that draw others to us are closely associated with the supreme development of the forces  of life.  No vivacity, then no personality.”

This chapter sets out what Bernarr believes to be vitality. Since that’s the title and promise of the book, to achieve it in a supreme way, it sets the foundation for the book. The gist of it is that your life is better with vitality and will not be so great if you don’t have it, and by following the steps in the book you’ll be one of the former.


In this chapter we here about the different organ systems of the body. In turn, each one is basically said to be the most important of the body, without which we would perish. This quote says it all.

“The body is really a combination of all these various parts and functions, and without strength and activity in all of them, simultaneous and harmonious, not one of these interdependent parts could do  its work, and the body as a whole would be thrown into a state of disease. Strength of the internal organs is infinitely more important than mere muscular strength, if one could properly make a comparison.”

Once again, this lays the foundation of the book, for the various drills and exercises to follow. It is a very strong quote and I agree with it completely.


This chapter deals with the importance of posture. Everyone has heard to use good posture, but not everyone actually does it.

“The mind, for instance, is affected to an extraordinary degree by this position.”

Have a depressed posture and you’ll begin to feel depressed. Have a confident posture and you’ll feel more confident. The physiology of your body plays into your state big time.

“The one idea-chin in, down and backward-will accomplish all that is needed.”

Although more steps are given this sums up how to attain a good posture. By leading with the chin the rest of the back and body fall into place.

“The fault really lies with the construction of the chair. The back of a chair does not fit the human back, and the seat is not at the right angle to rest the body. Why is it that men commonly like to tilt a chair backward on the hind legs?”

“Civilized  men  and women spend such a very large part of the time in a sitting position that the bodily posture when sitting down is a very  great  factor  in  the bodily welfare and health. Special thought and study, therefore, should be given the  question  of  the sitting  posture.”

This is really interesting. As a kid and still now I always do tilt on the back legs of a chair. Now I have ammo, saying it’s good for my posture if anyone says anything about it. Even more then in his day to people spend sitting, so the final statement here is even more important.


This chapter deals with the importance of the thyroid gland and exercising it to make it work better.

“Many movements which assist in the development of  the  neck muscles also serve to stimulate the activities of the thyroid gland.”

I can’t say for sure whether this is correct or not as I’ve never heard anyone else talk of it. But doing the simple exercises outlined in this chapter would cause movement in the thyroid area. Like other exercises, lets say the vacuum for the abdominal organs, it very well could assist in its functioning on some level. All the more reason to train your neck, which is so often neglected.


Next we come to the importance of the spine and not just for posture. Again a series of exercises are recommended. And it should be noted that the majority of exercises found in this book are of self-isometric style with a few other bodyweight exercises added in.

As for how hard you should work all these exercises:

“Each of these exercises should be taken until a feeling of fatigue has been noticed, after which you may rest a few moments, breathing fully and deeply with expanded abdomen. You should then be ready to begin the next exercise.”


This chapter probably has my biggest takeaway from the book. This is something I plan to experiment with although I have not yet.

“This system of alimentary stimulation can be roughly described as a combination of hot-water-drinking and a nerve-center-stimulating process.”

The basics of it is to drink hot water in the morning. Specifically one to two quarts of previous boiled water (obviously not drinking it right off the stove, but letting it cool until you can safely drink it), and a pinch of salt. This is drunk cup or pint at a time immediately at rising in the morning while doing the exercises recommended to aid in elimination and stimulation.

The hot water along with exercises stimulate the body and get everything moving. Well worth trying if you feel your system is sluggish in any way. The number of times he recommends and comes back to this process in the book, shows how important he believes it to be.

“Do not acquire the idea that the bowels must move at a certain time each day with unintermitted regularity…it is of advantage to have  the  bowels  move of  their  own accord, as the result of a natural impulse.”

So many people talk about the idea of being regular, yet this is never something that has occurred for me. Probably because I don’t eat the same things or at the same times. So it was great to read that the time wasn’t important, but being “regular” in that it happens daily or several times a day is what’s important.

“When there is suffering from temporary attacks of constipation and immediate relief is desired,  add  from  one-quarter  to  one-half  a level teaspoonful of salt to each cup of hot water. Speedy results can be depended upon in virtually every case.”

If you or anyone you know suffers from constipation this technique is worth a shot.


This is a basic chapter on the need for exercise. One quote I liked:

“Now these dead cells and minute corpuscles linger in the tissues if one lives an inactive life. Therefore it is literally true that you are half dead if you do not  give the muscular system its proper use.”

Now we can justifiably call people that don’t exercise half dead 🙂 Maybe that will get them moving.


The basics of breathing deeply are covered here.

“Almost any vigorous exercise will enforce deep breathing, and there is no  question  as  to  the  benefit  of  the  involuntary  or spontaneous inhalation and exhalation thus induced. Running and wrestling are types of very vigorous athletic exercises that  will compel  one  to  breathe deeply and fully, and will insure a full lung development without special breathing exercises.”

It makes sense that if you exercise in a way that requires full deep breathing you don’t require any special deep breathing exercises. These may have some other uses like meditative but as far as health is concerned they can be done in any intense conditioning exercise.


As I mentioned in a previous podcast one goal is to try to spend some time outdoors each day. This chapters calls for the same, speaking about playing sports, walking and camping.

“Walking is a tonic of very great value to every one of the organic functions.”


A short chapter on the importance of the stomach. Some ideas about exercise and digestion are covered but nothing ground-breaking.


This chapter covers how to take care of the teeth. All the basics are covered such as:

“The use of dental floss is fully as important as the use of  a tooth brush.”

There is also talk of exercising the teeth as shown in this photo below.

Exercise for the Teeth

Using a folded towel to strengthen the teeth

“All natural foods that provide good exercise for the teeth through the necessity for mastication are valuable on this  account  for strengthening the teeth.”


Not only do you need to know what to eat but how to eat. Mostly basic info but some things worth pointing out.

“Remember also the importance of a suitable mental attitude at meal-time. Your mind should be occupied almost entirely with the pleasure of the meal itself. You should not be seriously diverted in any way.”

In our fast paced society this is something that frequently goes. Eating shouldn’t be a time for multi-tasking but of just enjoying your meal. If people had more awareness about eating there would be less overweight people.

He also discusses the differences between eating three, two or one meals per day. (Note that there is no six meal per day plan even talked about here.) The basics of it comes down to eating what your body requires and when you’re hungry.


This chapter then details the foods to eat. Plenty of interesting quotes here.

“Those that can be enjoyed when uncooked are more valuable when eaten without cooking.”

A simple call to eat more raw foods. And in most cases this is completely true. Cooking does destroy nutrients so if you can eat something raw do it.

“Avoid too much variety at one meal.”

This can be tough on digestion and is a call for proper food combining.

“Nearly all restrictive diets are valuable for a short period where there is evidence of overeating.”

This also presupposes that restrictive diets shouldn’t be done in the long-term. He goes on to say the value of vegetarians diets, but that they don’t work for everyone.

“The result showed that he lost more weight and more strength  while  following  the  white-flour regimen than he had while fasting absolutely. This would seem to indicate that, in this case, at least, white-flour products  were  not  a food, but a slow-acting poison.”

Enough said.

“The “war bread” used in Europe since the outbreak of the great war is of this type. The pumpernickel and “black breads” used in various parts of Europe are so valuable from a nutritive standpoint  that one can live on them entirely.”

Not all breads are created equal. These breads are much more dense and along with that nutritionally packed. Perhaps you want to try some of these and see if they work for you?


Here Bernarr details which foods are good for ensuring proper elimination and which ones will plug it up. He also talks about how massage and percussion treatments could be valuable.

Lastly, he condemns most laxatives as being to harsh and says colonics and enemas are to be used sparingly.


This chapter shows how applying pressure onto your body and organs can make them stronger. This is an area I’ve never seen covered elsewhere but is worth looking into.

“When you have reached a condition in which you can exert the most vigorous pressure  upon  all  of  these parts, and do it with comfort and pleasurable results, your “department of the interior” is in a strong and healthy condition.”

“The idea is to exert pressure throughout the entire region of the abdomen, chest, sides and back.”


This chapter talks about how to keep or get the blood pure. It starts off with a powerful sentence:

“If one could maintain his blood in absolute purity disease would be virtually impossible.”

“Remember, however,  that modern habits are often inclined partially to eliminate or entirely to destroy what one might call a natural thirst.”

In referring to the use in water to keep the kidneys working and eliminating, there is the idea that we’ve gotten away from what is natural. You can’t always rely on what your body tells you if you’re out of tune with your body. This applies to thirst as well as much else. Just an important concept to keep in the back of your mind.

“The influence of air  baths, friction baths and sun baths. Remember that through these agencies the pores may be made very active without any apparent result in the  form of  liquid perspiration.”

Getting fresh air on your skin, a rubdown with a rough towel or brush, and also sun on your skin are all important for detoxing the body. Remember that the skin is your largest eliminative organ.

“Fasting is the greatest of all methods of purification…The free drinking of water and especially the hot- water-drinking plan, together with the colon-flushing treatment, will likewise  help to facilitate the cleansing and blood-purifying action of the fast.”

Fasting is powerful. To detoxify your body it is the best way, sometimes aided by other methods. But it is not a cure-all. Bernarr MacFadden actually accelerated his death by fasting at a time when his body needed to be built back up. Remember that you can’t live on fasting. Still most people could stand to learn how to do it regularly.


This chapter covers bathing. I found the quotes regarding the temperatures of the bathing quite interesting.

“The hot bath is to be used as a cleansing agent while the cold bath is a tonic exclusively.”

“This neutral bath has a sedative or quieting effect upon the  nerves  through its effect upon the innumerable nerve endings in the skin. It is neither hot nor cold, neither stimulating nor weakening, and one  could  remain in such a bath for hours without harm.”

You can use the hot, cold or neutral baths for different purposes. One thing I would add with our water quality is that if you’re using a hot path particularly since it opens up the pores it is best to be in pure water without chemicals.


This chapter covers clothing. There is some interesting other facts like about the colors of clothing but I particularly liked the ideas on shoes.

“A shoe should fit the foot. The more nearly you approximate the  same freedom when walking in a shoe as you do when barefooted the more perfect the shoe.”

It seems this idea has become much more into vogue recently. The truth is I go shoeless as much as possible. Even when wearing shoes I’ll often kick them off when driving or sitting at a place for an extended period of time. This is addressed a bit more ominously in the next quote.

“I am convinced that the Omnipotent Creator knew his business thoroughly when he created the human foot, that the sole of the human foot, heel included, was made for locomotion,  and  that it is impossible for human ingenuity to improve upon the foot.”


This chapter starts of with some interesting facts I did not know. These quickly show you the importance of sleep.

“Sleep is far more necessary than food.”

“It has been found  that dogs kept awake even though sufficiently fed, suffer more than when deprived of food and permitted to sleep. When kept awake continuously  they die in four or five days.”

“In early English history condemned criminals were put to death by being deprived of sleep, and the same method  has  been employed in China. Enforced sleeplessness, in fact, has been used as a form of torture by the Chinese, being more feared than any other. The men subjected to this frightful ordeal always die raving maniacs.”

Wow! I did not know that.

“Those  possessing  the  greatest  amount  of vitality and the strongest organisms will require less sleep than those of limited vitality and  weak  functional  powers.”

The example of Thomas Edison is given here. Unfortunately it is often the reverse. The people that care the most for their bodies already, tend to get more sleep, while those that don’t, get less sleep. There are a number of other lessons in this chapter as regards to position and much else.

In fact, Bernarr was where I first got the idea to ditch the pillow which I still do not use. Here he says do not use one if you sleep on your back but you can if you sleep on your side.

“It is reasonable to conclude that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth more than an hour  thereafter.”

This is something I’m currently experimenting with. Its weird. I tend to get up at about the same time 8AM regardless of when I got to sleep. I’m trying an experiment where I go to bed sooner, before midnight and wake up earlier.


No book on health would be complete without talking about the mind. I firmly believe this is the MOST important factor. In this chapter he goes over mostly emotions and how these lead to undermining your health.

“Make your mind a blank so far as the past is concerned, and fill it with uplifting thoughts for the present and the future. Worry is a mental poison, the toxic element produced in the mind by retention of waste matter.”

“More happiness comes from the pursuit of wealth or pleasure than from its actual attainment.”

So enjoy the ride, rather then just the end goal. If you’ve ever had a big goal and been let down when you actually accomplished it you know this is true.


In many ways Bernarr MacFadden was ahead of his time. If you’ve heard of the new art called Laughing Yoga then you know things often come in cycles. How many other’s include the curative powers of laughing in their books in health? Not many. Many people have heard the story of Norman Cousins in Anatomy of an Illness who cured his “incurable” disease with laughing at funny movies (along with high doses of vitamin C).

“The “laugh cure” is a reality, for it is a remedy of very great value.”

“Each day should have its laughing time, or its many laughing times.”

There’s energetic and mental reasons this does work. There are several ways you can go about it. Spend time with funny people. Watch funny movies, videos on youtube or just going through facebook you’ll often see many funny pictures. Or you can force yourself to mechanically laugh as is shown in this book.


Another subject not often (never?) covered in health books and that is the value of singing. Personally, not being an auditory person, this is hard for me to swallow, but I’m working on that.

“When one is overflowing with happiness it is entirely  natural for him to break forth into song.”

Singing can aid in the voice, the lungs and the mood. Many people already sing, like in the shower, but if you don’t give it a shot.


The books ends off with two pages summarizing what to do based on everything else in the book. Just by following these simple steps you would be quite well off health-wise.

Very similar to this you can check out my popular book 101 Simple Steps to Radiant Health.

Your Turn

Sure you can just read this article and gain from it. But I hope you will read the full book of Vitality Supreme. Then it’s your turn to comment. For us to get the most of this book club it must be interactive.

Use the form below to write your comments. What questions do you have? What did you learn from this book? What do you plan on applying that you’ve learned? What do you like? What do you disagree with?


  1. Mosyle it was a good book filled with interesting ideas. I agree fully with drinking a quart or two of warm water in the morning as I have met a middle-aged woman who does that and is in excellent health and youth.
    Of course, the danger with so much advice is that you end up feeling either trapped or worried, and as Macfadden himself knows in such cases this will not lead to good health, so take up only what appeals to you right now.

    Re: sleep deprivation, it is illegal as a form of torture, however was still being used in Gauntanemo Bay until recently by renaming it “sleep adjustment”. People in certain cases die after as little as two weeks of sleep, but most will survive longer.
    An experiment was carried out depriving one man of sleep and asking him to keep a diary. He became increasingly agitated and agressive, and eventually became paranoid that the experimenters (who were supervising him) were attempting to kill him, he refused to eat the cereal they prepared because he thought they must have poisoned it. Eventually he hid in the bathroom so they couldn’t get to him, of course when they found him he’d fallen asleep, well he felt a lot better once he woke up.

  2. Logan,
    I enjoy finding out so many forgotten things from the past, and especially how much people disagree! It seems like anything can work if done rightly.

  3. Author

    I’ve heard of lack of sleep leading to hallucination but before this didn’t know it actually caused death.

    Actually a recent study showed that people who worry live longer then people who are completely care-free. This is because the worriers do things for their health (as they’re worried about it). Of course chronic worrying is the problem. Just do something about your situation then move on.

    Yes, pretty much anything will work to some degree. A large part of this is the placebo effect, thinking that something will work. But you also need to find out what really works for you and that’s what experimentation is for.

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