© 2019 Severina KOLDMAN

2019 – № 2 (18)

Keywords: aging, old age, active longevity, life force, history of medicine

Abstract. A review of scientific and popular literature issued in XIX-early XX century Russia revealed a dependency between a person’s active life span and reservoir for a certain force called “vitality”, “life energy”, or “life force”. The source for this type of energy is the parents’ reserves, which they share with their children at the moment of conception, and this predefines the child’s short or long life. According to the concepts of expenditure and replenishment of life force in the process of living, a person can control his life span. Similar beliefs about “virality” reserves in the organism still exist today.


The article reviews the word combination “life force” (life energy, life tonus, vitality) in the context of discussions about active longevity. The materials for the study are works in the Russian language published in XIX–early XX century that reflect the belief, established in traditional and medical practice, about the expenditure of life forces given to the person at conception. Proper use of one’s reserve begins at the moment of birth and does not stop until death, gradually depleting this reserve in the process of life.

In the XIX century, the definition of life force was closely connected with sexual energy: as a result, it was prescribed to control its expenditure, and not to lose physiological liquids in vain. It was thought that masturbation or unsystematic sexual life leads to premature aging of the organism. A human should feed this force during his life, to replenish it after very big losses (such as stress or sexual intercourse), and to constantly accumulate.

In addition to that, life force is identical to “vegetative force”, and its reserve is designed for a human’s physical development during his whole life. This belief led to experiments such as varnishing a human body, aimed at slowing down its growth. Birth of children with physical disabilities was explained by a lack of life force for embryo development. a drop in vegetative force leads to a reduction of body dimensions and a crooked body in old age. Expenditure of this force is largely determined by a person’s disposition. Cold-blooded and calm people, according to the authors, have a longer life. Why does a tree live that long? Because its life is free of stress, which means that expenditure of “vegetative force” (life force) is much slower.

The definition of life force is embedded is Mesmer’s ideas of “animal magnetism”, which can be used to improve health and bring longevity. “Mesmerism”, or natural magnetism, is a force used by Christ to heal with his hands, and this method is available to people. In the XIX century, the vital force was generally compared with electricity. A thunderstrike can kill only because its charge is apparently stronger than that of a human.

The vital force was considered to exist in the breath, in the blood (magnetism of iron in blood with the help of such devices as “Dr. Graham’s bed”); it is produced and stored in the human brain, heart, and liver. These beliefs of longevity experts, philosophers, doctors, and physiologists correlate with various traditional ethnic beliefs.

The life force possesses the following characteristics: it is fluid, it has a symbolic color (red), high temperatures are intrinsic to it (warmth, heat) as well as electromagnetic features.

According to public beliefs of XIX–early XX cent., the life process is the spending of vital force reserves until they are depleted, or internal organs are worn out, which makes them incapable of storing the given energy type within the human body. Death comes as a result.


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Citation link:

Koldman S. D. (2019). “Zhiznennaja sila” i dolgoletie (po materialam russkojazychnyh izdanij XIX – nachala HH vv.) “Life Force” and Longevity (Based on Materials of Russian-language Publications from XIX–early XX centuries). Medicinskaja antropologija i biojetika [Medical Anthropology and Bioethics], 18 (2).