The 1834 volume of British Manly Exercises While the working classes spent most of their even shorter lives engaged in backbreaking manual labour in either field or factory, many members of higher classes suffered health problems due to inactivity.Walker aims to persuade readers that exercise had the potential to “prolong life and improve its happiness” and could combat and prevent ailments; “nay, it supersedes medicine by banishing disease”.Popular 19th century medicines often contained poisons and opiates and the poor, unable to afford these treatments, relied heavily on quack cures.Walker is keen to set his manual apart from this, stating that “All exhibitionary and quackish preparatory exercises, as they are termed, are here excluded … no tick-tack, cross-touch, kissing the ground, goats jump, spectre’s march etc”.And it notes that to improve the nation’s health, “education must be divided into two parts – physical and mental”. According to the manual to achieve ‘the highest condition’ gentleman should drink cold beer and cider exclusively, avoiding all other liquids save for a half pint of red wine after dinner.The author appropriates the diet to a Captain Barclay, while noting that it has received glowing user reviews and comes recommended by ‘professional men’. A man swims Avoiding vegetables and only drinking cider, beer and wine, may not seem the obvious way to stay trim, but in Georgian England it was the ultimate dietary regime for the ‘manly gentleman.’Researchers at St John’s College, Cambridge University, have unearthed an 1834 fitness manual which aimed to help the middle and upper classes – whose sedentary lives and fatty diets could lead to obesity and gout – to get in shape.The guide, entitled British Manly Exercises was written by Donald Walker and gives instructions on a range of physical activities deemed suitable for young gentlemen, from leaping and vaulting to skating and wrestling.But while it reveals that pre-Victorians knew much about the benefits of regular exercise, there is other more questionable advice. St John’s College, Cambridge Whenever the gymnast feels tired, or falls behind his usual mark, he should resume his clothes and walk home.Donald Walker A spokesman for St John’s College, Cambridge said: “Little is known about Donald Walker other than the fact that he penned several other books including Exercises for Ladies and Literary Composition.“British Manly Exercises was donated to the Library by Hugh Gatty who was appointed college lecturer in history in 1936 and who left several valuable manuscripts to the Library and over five hundred early printed books.“It gives clear instructions on the art of adopting a healthier lifestyle and offers a fascinating insight into 19th century attitudes to exercise.” A guide to balancing The guidebook, which claims to be the first to describe the procedures of rowing and sailing as exercise, gives instructions on how to exercise “with a direct, immediate and obvious purpose”.It was forward-thinking at a time when infectious disease was rife and, on average, a middle-class man could not expect to live past the grand old age of 45. As part of the regime a gentleman must gradually increase his level of exercise to 20 to 24 miles of walking and running a day, his diet should consist of lean meat, stale bread and biscuits – no other vegetable matter is permitted and “everything inducing flatulency must be carefully avoided”.It also stresses the importance of gentle and consistent training to avoid injury and recommends that: “No exertion should be carried to excess, and whenever the gymnast feels tired, or falls behind his usual mark, he should resume his clothes and walk home.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.