Flex-Ed: 5 little-known health facts about U.S. Presidents

As the nation settles in for a day full of barbecues, fireworks and outdoor fun, we thought July 4 would be a good time to think back to some of the people that led this nation over the last 250 years. Because, as it turns out our leaders were (and are) just as human as us all. Many suffered from the same illnesses, while others rose above to develop positive health habits.

As we look back on the lives of our notable leaders, let's take a peek at their health situations to shed light on their lives (not to mention the eras in which they lived).

Thomas Jefferson's romantic wrist wrangling

In the summer of 1785, Thomas Jefferson served as the U.S. minister to France. But the importance of this office didn't stop Jefferson from leaping over a fence to impress a French woman. This rom-com maneuver ended badly for him, however, when he landed wrong and ended up breaking his wrist.

Jefferson described the incident in a letter to American artist John Trumbull: "It was by one of those follies from which good cannot come, but ill may." Unfortunately, 18th century doctors didn't have access to advanced wrist support items, so his broken bones were improperly set by French doctors, and his wrist remained deformed and painful for the rest of his life.

William Henry Harrison's near-instant pneumonia

William Henry Harrison holds the unfortunate distinction for the shortest time in office at just 32 days in 1841. Harrison gave a two-hour inaugural speech on a cold, rainy March day and soon developed a cold that progressed into pneumonia.

While a lot has happened in medicine since that dreary day in 1841, we now know Harrison might have benefited from some modern cold, flu and allergy products to break up his congestion before it got infected. Sadly, he passed from complications, just nine days later.

Calvin Coolidge's surefire sleep habits

The 30th President put a notable emphasis on his sleep cycle and was known to sleep 11 hours each day. Coolidge was known to retire to bed at 10 p.m., wake up between 7 and 9 a.m. and always made time for an afternoon nap lasting 2 to 4 hours.

Could you imagine a modern-day president having the time to have this sleep schedule? Chances are our current leaders are lacking quality sleep, and probably need a little help from FSA-eligible sleep aids to get rest in order to tackle the world's problems with the right clarity and focus.

John F. Kennedy's silent, but severe back issues

John F. Kennedy's back issues were never revealed to the public until after his death, but they were a constant source of difficulty starting from a young age. Throughout his Presidency, JFK wore a back brace and took medication to manage the pain from his condition.

It turns out one of the most public-facing presidents was actually hiding a life-threatening disease. The notoriously camera-friendly Kennedy chose to hide his diagnosis of Addison's disease — an incurable disorder of the adrenal glands.

Barack Obama toppled his tobacco addiction

Shortly before entering the White House, the 44th President made a vow to his wife, Michelle, that he would quit smoking cigarettes before entering the 2008 race. Though he had smoked tobacco since high school, Obama managed to quit thanks to the use of smoking cessation products like nicotine gum.

It appears Obama has continued to fight the addiction, which may still stand as one of his greatest accomplishments -- even after a noteworthy two terms in office.

Yes, it turns out the forefathers of our country, shared quite a bit with current leaders … and had more than a few similarities to the rest of us. We've probably missed a ton of great stories about other presidents, so please let us know who we should add on our social media pages.


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