Ancient geometry and modern health

The Times ran a story yesterday titled: ‘Ancient Greeks ‘can help us stay healthy’. The follow-up: ‘Ancient Greek can help mental health’ never materialised. I’m disappointed, but I want to stay healthy.

Pythagoras, the Times argued, ‘was one of the first to advocate daily exercise for health reasons’. Greek philosophers liked to walk (while philosophizing), and one does not have to wait for Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, to tell us that walking is good for you.

What the article failed to note, however, is that the philosopher’s walks up the hill – a more health-conducive, cardio-rich exercise than flat walking, may have inspired Pythagoras’ theorem.

You know the theorem. It says that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides.

A right-angled triangle is also an inclined plane, a ramp. Walking uphill means marching up the hypotenuse, while the benefit of the exercise is directly proportionate to the incline, which is the length of ‘side a’, the cathetus of cardio bliss.

In 2015, a researcher found that Pythagoras’ theorem ‘could be the most effective way to identify the point at which a patient’s health begins to improve’.

Forget the treadmill, become a Pythagorean.

A daily walk up the hypotenuse, while thinking about Pythagoras may help us stay healthy both in body and in spirit.

No writings of Pythagoras have survived. There is far more legend than fact jamming our knowledge of his life and work. It may be that the copyists responsible for handing down his works through the ages were too busy walking around than sitting down to work.

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