Physical Exercise and Culture and Their Bearings On Health and Strength

Part I (Published 1904)

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GENERAL INFLUENCE OF EXERCISE.

Heart and Blood. -While the heart, the hollow muscle which propels the blood to all parts of the system, is constantly in operation during life, exercise can most powerfully modify its action. One can see for himself that exercise drives the blood more forcibly to the skin. The cheeks redden because more blood flows through the capillary network, seen in the figure. The heat of the body is increased, and the appetite improved, indicating that new blood constituents are required.

Effect of Muscular Pressure. -Contraction of the muscles, especially of the arms and legs, exercise a powerful pressure on the blood-vessels. In the arteries it promotes the flow of blood onward toward the capillaries. In the veins it has a powerful effect in promoting the return of the blood toward the heart. Moreover, limb movements alternately lengthen and shorten the extensible veins and thus operate as a kind of sucking force within.

Special Results of Exercise. -Its further possible to regulate by bodily movements the supply of blood to each particular organ. Influx of blood to a particular organ, when superabundance might prove dangerous, can be relieved by movements calculated to carry it to parts where no harm can come. This is particularly useful in certain forms of heart disease.

EFFECT OF EXERCISE ON THE LUNGS.

Importance of Respiration. -The importance of full and free respiration, by which an ample supply of fresh, pure air, rich in oxygen, is taken into the lungs, and much waste matter carried away, cannot be overestimated. Deep and calm is preferable to rapid and superficial breathing. The former indicates healthy lungs, the latter indicates weakness.

Exercise and Respiration. -During and after exercise respiration is both frequent and deep. The increased quantity of air inhaled and exhaled carries to the lungs an increased supply of oxygen, and carries away carbonic acid and other waste products.

Effect on the Chest. -A wide, deep and mobile chest is a sign of strength in the respiratory organs. This chest is seen in soldiers, laborers, sailors and in all who use gymnastics in a rational manner. It contrasts most favorably with the narrow, hollow and almost motionless chest of those of sedentary habits, or who neglect exercise.

Respiration and Blood Circulation. -Respiration also contributes proper blood circulation. The lungs by their great elasticity react on the air inside of them and shrink from their surroundings. This diminishes the pressure of air in the lungs upon the arteries and great blood-vessels, and consequently produces a suction in the large veins toward the heart. This diminished pressure powerfully promotes the rapid emptying of the blood from the veins into the heart. In a word then, exercise develops the muscles of respiration, and by the energetic action of these strengthened muscles the entire circulation is invigorated and a more active interchange between the inhaled and exhaled air is brought about.

INFLUENCE OF EXERCISE ON DIGESTION.

Relation of Service to Digestion. -The relations of exercise to digestion are very important. A due about of active muscular exercise seems to be indispensable to healthy digestive organs and easy digestion. One of the most serious forms of dyspepsia is due to the feebleness of the muscular movement of the stomach, which movement produces the churning motion so essential to digestion.

Strong Abdominal Muscles. -It is anatomically true that strong abdominal muscles are generally found with good digestion, and weakness of these muscles accompanies feeble digestion. Bodily exercise is the best sauce for food. Hunger aids a strong efficient digestive apparatus.

Exercise and the Secretion. -Rapid and complete throwing off of waste matter from the system is as important to health as an ample supply of food. Exercise increases the circulation in the small arteries, causing augmented transudation of nutritive material to fill the interspaces of the surrounding textures. It also diminished the blood pressure in the smaller veins, thus facilitating the absorption of the waste matter from the interspaces of the tissues. In the same way the decreased pressure of blood in the minute veins favors the absorption of a larger quantity of nutrition material, thus rendering the blood richer and more vitalizing.

Exercise and Organs of Movement. -Movement of muscles, even if it tires, increases their volume, showing that new substance has replaced worn out material, and corroborating the general statement that muscular action promotes increased growth by quickening the circulation, augmenting the absorption of nutritive material, and, in turn, improving the appetite. Muscular action develops the forces at the expense of nutritive material, but that is the very reason the muscles gain in bulk and strength. Exercise also develops the bones and ligaments.

Abdominal Breathing. -One should begin the inflation of the lungs at their base, that is at the abdominal portion, if the full benefit of lung exercise is to be obtained; to wit, a full, round chest and flat abdomen, which are sure criteria of health. Notice this, that when you expand the chest you draw back the abdomen. Notice, also, that when you draw in the abdomen the chest rises and expands. Thus there is mutual breathing by lungs and abdomen, a most important and strengthening exercise, one easily practiced, and bound to give the body a correct position and proportion. If there be a heavy, distended abdomen, one out of proportion to the rest of the body, and often unsightly, this mutual breathing exercise will reduce the unsightliness and con- tribute to symmetry of parts.

Exercise and the Nerves. -Nervousness is very common among those who do not daily subject their muscles to a sufficient amount of exercise. They get headache, faceache, pains in the back, neuralgia, dyspepsia, differ from heart palpitations noises and changes of temperature, grow irritable, lack energy and perseverance. It is known that a nerve left in prolonged inactivity degenerates, becomes relaxed and feeble. Hence the necessity for such exercise as will make it demand nutrition and grow strong.

Exercise and Mind. -Proper exercise of the mind is just as necessary for its health as that of the body. But unfortunately the mind is apt to be overexercised, especially with children and modern systems of education. Overwork of the mind, even if it be called education, and neglect of physical culture is vicious in every way. The nervous apparatus, and more especially the brain is the organ of mental powers. Just as the perfection of physical life is dependent on proper exercise of the organs, so the mental capacities in a healthy body are kept efficient by proper employment.

Appreciation of Exercise. -Perhaps one reason that systematic exercise is not appreciated at its full value is that its special object and nature, its adaptation to individual requirements, and its effect upon the different structures of the human frame are imperfectly understood. This arises from the fact that its effects upon any part but the muscles are seldom taken into consideration, and hence its vast influence on the organs employed in the vital processes of respiration, circulation and nutrition is overlooked. The evils arising from this mistake are many, for so long as it is popularly thought that systematic exercise gives nothing but muscular power, few of those engaged in intellectual pursuits, to whom sheer muscular power is of little account, care to cultivate it.

Will-power. -It should never be forgotten that the results of exercise, or physical culture, are not by any means limited to the body. They embrace the will-power and also numerous moral qualities. These need to be called into requisition with every physical effort, and this constitutes their exercise and constant strengthening and growth. Exercise of will-power, in connection with bodily exercise, soon gives the former such control that without active physical exertion, but simply by will-exertion, muscles can be used and developed to an unlimited extent. This strengthening of will-power not only means health of body, but success in life. With will-power fully strengthened goes the kindred quality of self-control, a prime helper toward the completion of the perfect man, not only as to physical proportion, but as to all the qualities classed as intellectual and moral.

Time Required. -Once develop strong limbs and a shapely frame, and a very little exercise comparatively will keep them so. Get the vigorous heart and ample lungs, set in a fair proportioned and ample chest and but a small fraction of the time spent in carefully regulated exercise will retain them in good condition. The portion of each day thus occupied need not be more then the busiest life can spare, nor in excess of that which the gravest mind would seek for recreation and recuperation. And that such results can be readily attained, may be demonstrated by reference to the recorded experience of leading teachers and disciples of the gospel of physical exercise.

Increase of Lung Capacity. -Dr. Morgan cites an instance of a hollow-chested and weak-lunged man who, by persistent systematic exercise extending over six months, increased the air capacity of his lungs from 250 cubic inches to 300 cubic inches. The value of this augmented lung capacity is inestimable. Suppose a man to be attacked by pneumonia, pleurisy or broncho-pneumonia, it may be readily conceived in such an emergency the possession of enough lung tissue to admit forty or fifty additional inches of air will suffice to turn the scale in favor of his recovery.

Lung Function. -Perhaps it is not generally known that only about one-third of the lungs is brought into play in ordinary breathing. Rest assured the other two-thirds will be called into requisition some day or some hour, and therefore should always be kept in condition by proper lung exercises. The most important lung function is the elimination of the deleterious carbon- dioxide remaining after oxygen is extracted from the air. In active exercise one becomes breathless and exhausted. This is because the one-third of the lung power is not equal to the task of throwing off deleterious accumulations. Now it is that the other two-thirds are called into requisition. They must be in condition to act promptly and efficaciously. Hence the importance of daily, systematic and full lung exercise. It is as essential to health as eating and sleeping. This fact will be soon learned after sufficient trial, for the whole man will soon respond, deep, easy and satisfactory breathing will ensue, and the revelation will be surprising.

Evils of Too Little Exercise. -The gradually increasing failure of muscular power observed when neglect of proper exercise is persistent, is the result of microscopic changes in the structure of muscles involved, during which some of the materials of construction disappear and are substituted by powerless and inert fat. This change of texture weakens the muscular fibers so that any sudden strain upon them might cause them to tear across. Such an accident, if it affected the heart, would prove suddenly fatal.

Fatty Degeneration. -After middle life, when the period of decay commences, it can readily happen that a muscle which has undergone fatty degeneration in consequence of long disuse, may give way when called upon to perform some unusual feat. Thus for example, a man of fifty, who, after years of sedentary life, makes an effort to throw a ball for a long distance, may be seized with a sudden sharp paid like the cut from a whip, and find the arm thus affected drop to his side entirely helpless. On examination a surgeon discovers that the biceps, or large muscle on the front of the arm, has been torn across, in consequence of its weakened condition, the result of fatty degeneration.

A Good Lung Exercise. -Stand erect and firmly with the arms thrown back of the body. Inhale slowly through the nostrils, forcing the inhalations toward the last, until the lungs are filled with air. Keep the chest well thrown out to encourage expansion. Hold the inhaled air for a few seconds, then open the mouth and let the air exhale gently. To assist exhalation the arms may be brought forward of the body and the chest allowed to assume its normal position. This exercise should take place only in the open air or where the air is pure, and may be safely indulged in from two to three times a day. A gentle patting of the chest muscles assists their development.

Children's Deformities. -One of the most common deformities among studious youths is stooping, by which is meant the habit of carrying the head and neck, as well as the upper portion of the trunk, bent forward, so that they are not in a line with the rest of the column of the body. A most evil consequence of this position is the compression, resulting in contraction, or at least imperfect development, of the upper art of the chest. With this kind of deformity may be classed, as a more exaggerated form, the various species of spinal curvature, often due to weakness of the dorsal muscles or to inordinate or unregulated growth. Rapid growth in height, if unaccompanied by corresponding development, is not only a misfortune in itself, but the source of many other physical evils. Thus, for instance, we sometimes see lads at school growing at the rate of six or eight inches per year. Even the smaller of these additions to height, if so rapidly attained, is incompatible with fair development and robust health, because the whole formative power of the body is expended in furthering one process - that of upward growth. A marked phenomenon of his rapid increase in height is the scanty expansion of the chest which takes place during the process. A boy or girl who has thus "outgrown his strength," as it is frequently called, may exhibit a chest which runs up from the waist without any expansion whatever, whilst the shoulders fold round toward the front and the head stoops forward from the base of the neck, the spinal column seldom retaining its natural erectness. The thorax has even been known to actually diminish in circumference as if it were tightened up by extreme elongation of the general frame. The true cause of these displacements is often, if not always, to be found in neglect of proper exercise for the muscles which hold the parts in their due relationship to each other. Dwarfed or stunted growth and growing on one side, are distressing examples of imperfect development, which can often be cured or vastly improved by duly regulated exercise.

Evils of Overexercise. -Systematic exercise implies that no muscle or organ should be overtaxed or exhausted. An exhausted muscle has its nutrition seriously impaired, and it may take days to overcome the effect of twenty-four hours of overwork. Excessive exertion in walking, running or leaping is liable to bring on enlargement of the veins of the legs, and sometimes to produce hernia or rupture, especially in those with an hereditary tendency thereto.

PRIME ELEMENTS OF MODERN PHYSICAL CULTURE.

Essence of Physical Culture. -Some persons decry physical culture because they associate it with athletics, and by athletics they see nothing but brutal baseball, football and other like sports. A part should never condemn a whole. The above and all kindred sports have their place, and should be encouraged, in so far as they contribute to physical development, disassociated with their excesses. In this respect physical culture embraces them, but in this respect only, for it has far wider scope and loftier purposes than mere athleticism. The ancient Greeks indulged in athleticism, and wonderful stories are recorded of their feats in wrestling, running, jumping and throwing the discus. But in these exercises they sought more than personal triumphs. They sought to make a race of fine physical men, and thereby assure to their nation the possession and exercise of other qualities which would distinguish it, and make it potent in art, science, commerce and other possibilities. To them well applied the motto and principle of sana mens in sano corpore, a sound mind in a sound body. Physical culture was with them both a bodily and mental process or exercise, a blending of developments, a true, normal association of systems calculated to evolve the well equipped man. And so it should be to-day. So it is when physical culture is well understood and practiced. Its agents are manifold, and suited to every disposition and physical characteristic. There is no earthly excuse for anyone to neglect every-day cultivation of his body, and the consequent achievement of greater things in all the avenues of the wide world's work.

Uneven Development. -All special exercises should be regarded as part of general exercise, unless one be in training for a specific object. If exercise is specialized, when the above object is not in view, there is danger of developing a muscle-bound condition. All voluntary muscles of the body are in pairs. They oppose each other, and when one is used for effecting a certain motion, the opposite one is used for a counteracting motion. The biceps muscle of the upper inside arm is used for bending it at the elbow. The triceps muscle of the upper outside arm is used to straighten it out again. Now, if the biceps be developed by exercise at the expense of the triceps, it will grow so strong as to constantly want to perform its function, that is, of drawing up the arm. It is a law of physiology that a muscle thus in a state of contraction will gradually shorten. Its accompanying tendons will do the same. Eventually the arm will become muscle-bound. The development of the two important muscles of the arm - biceps and triceps - has been uneven, one at the expense of the other. The same may occur with any set of muscles. The condition is embarrassing, and contrary to all the laws of perfect development, and all the uses of healthy, natural and rational exercise. Competent gymnastic instructors watch such conditions, and provide means of overcoming them. But this is also possible with anyone. The best cure is to avoid them, by a general and even system of exercise.

Insomnia. -We have already seen the beneficial effects of exercise upon that distressing and all too common disease, dyspepsia. An allied, if not a consequent, disease, and surely one equally distressing, is insomnia - sleeplessness. It may not always be a symptom of definite disease, but it is almost surely an evidence of disturbed health, either physical or mental. The exceptions are those cases where there is suffering from intense pain, as of a wound or a toothache. Here the cause is plain, and the treatment equally so. But neither cause nor treatment is so plain in those cases of sleeplessness which are due to general disturbance of the system. To absolutely close the mind on retiring against everything but the determination to go to sleep has been proposed as an efficacious remedy for sleeplessness. But this requires an exercise of will-power often impossible, and especially at a time when will-power is at a discount by the very bodily conditions which provoke the insomnia. Moreover, it is contended that the mere fact of a determination to go to sleep will have the opposite effect.

A Physical Cure. -It is almost universally accepted that a good, if not the best, cure for insomnia is physical exhaustion of the body; that is, the bringing about of such a bodily condition as is best described by "tired," sufficiently tired to make one glad to lie down, and to feel that the best thing that could happen, or the only thing that could afford relief, would be a good, long, sound sleep. To bring about this physical condition, some prescribe a long walk before retiring, others a variety of exercises, but nothing answers better than a determined bout with the dumb-bells, forgetting everything but the effect of their use upon the muscles. The mind will thus be diverted, but in addition the exercise will relieve the gorged blood-vessels of the head and neck, a condition attendant on sleeplessness, and often the cause of it. When sufficient of this kind of exercise has been taken to divert the mind and tire the body, it should terminate in a sponging-down with cold water, and an immediate retiring to bed. The sponging should especially embrace the head, forehead and neck. If one is already tired by a hard day's work, and there be no further need for a course of exercise, the cold sponge bath may, of itself prove all that is requisite. Should these fail of intended effects, resort may be had to a course of muscular exercises in bed. Extend and contract determinedly the muscles of the arms, then of the legs, and so pass over the whole muscular system, keeping the mind on the work, and remote from every source of worry. Add to the strictly muscular exercise any determined movement that may occur, such as turning the head and neck, raising head and body, stiffening out of body and limbs, etc., the mind always keeping pace with the motion. Insomnia did not come on you in a night or a week. You cannot cure it except by persistent battle.

The Bath and Exercise. -Apart from muscular development, the hygiene of exercise must always be considered. Exercise forces to the surfaces of the body the accumulated impurities, in the form of moisture and greasy substances. This it does even if the exercise has not been violent or persistent enough to induce perspiration. This moisture, if not removed by bathing, or by persistent rubbing, will be re-absorbed| and will return to the circulation. It is easy to see, then, that the bath should be counted on as an auxiliary to exercise, should complete the work of exercise. A person after exercising should wait to be cooled off sufficiently to enter a bath with safety. The best bath after exercise is the cold bath, that is one with a temperature below that of the body. Some hesitate to take this kind of a bath, but much of the hesitancy to taking it will pass away if one accustoms himself to taking it with a plunge, or, if the vessel be small, by a vigorous administration of the water to the body. It is unnecessary to say here, that this kind of a bath, indeed, all kinds of baths, should be followed by energetic rubbing. Thus do bathing and exercise unite in physical culture, become adjuncts of one another, completing a system which cannot but contribute to both mental and bodily vigor and to longevity and happiness.

Age and Exercise. -Many indulge the delusion that exercise is only necessary to youth, the period when development is rapid, when exercise can be turned to the account of athleticism. This delusion is a fatal one to nurse, for exactly the contrary is true, as has been proved over and over again by personal experience as well as by medical observation. As middle life approaches or old age sets in, there is a disposition to quietude, to a relaxation of means of keeping the system in order. But these are the periods when the digestive apparatus is apt to suffer from impairment, and when the secretions and circulation grow sleepy and irrespective. They are also the periods when the palate demands its luxuries, when the cigar or pipe habit has become fixed. All of these tend to produce conditions inimical to good health, and if indisposition or sickness does not set in, nevertheless, there is a premature drawing upon the vital forces, a wasting of what should be conserved for later years. Old age comes on before its time. The abatement of the natural forces due to years must, of course, go on, but it should not be hasty, and need not be if vital energy is properly preserved, which it can be it the physical machinery is kept in rational use. It must not be allowed to rust or go without oil. These can be obviated by exercise - not violent exertion, but systematic practice of rules suited to changed and changing conditions. Wonted exercise suited to younger years, if found too severe, must give way to something else better suited. What is momentous is that the habit of exercise should not be abated or lost. It is always necessary to health and prime physical condition, even after the Psalmist's range of years has been passed.

Food and Exercise. -No muscular exercise can be carried on except at the expense of tissue, just as there can be no steam-power except at the expense of coal. But do not forget that the prime object of exercise is to provide means for supplying more and better tissue, through the agency of oxygen and food, or, in other words, through fuller breathing, a greater need for food, and a better digestion and assimilation. Food, therefore, becomes a consideration in connection with physical culture. Nitrogenous foods are a prime essential. These consist of the meats, eggs, and leguminous vegetables. They supply the waste of tissue in an imperfect way, but when combined with the carbohydrates-sugar, starch, fat and salt - a powerfully stimulating food is provided, one in accordance with nature, and one calculated to restore tissue with great rapidity. Hence character and proportion of foods partaken of, especially in connection with physical exercise, becomes worthy of study. Indeed, focus in their quantity, kind and adaptation, like baths and other concomitants of bodily culture, are as momentous as exercise itself.

Exercise in General. -All bodily movement is exercise. Breathing, winking, any involuntary motion, is exercise. Voluntary motion, such as walking, typewriting, eating, is exercise. No action can take place without muscular movement. Even mental phenomena, such as fear, grief, pleasure, manifest themselves in muscular motion of the face, hands, arms, or other portions of the body. But exercise, as usually meant, is such action or movement of the muscles as is resorted to in the pursuit of health and strength.

Heart and Lungs. -Muscular action implies contraction and expansion. The central organ, the heart, the great provider of nourishment for the muscular system, should be regarded as the regulator and governor of exercise; that is, exercise should be in constant consultation with it, and should never unduly tax it. The lungs come next, and so intimately do they work with the heart, that they should never be imposed upon by violent exercise. Care for them will be better understood when it is known that no exercise would be of practical benefit unless the heart and lungs are allowed to supply their full quantity of oxygenized energy to sustain muscular activity. They have a most decided mission in aiding muscles to exude waste and the poisonous carbon- dioxide which exercise stirs and accumulates. Violent exercise causes the muscles to restrain the circulation of the blood. Hence bloods cannot flow freely through the muscles to carry the waste matter to the lungs, there to be exhaled. So the muscle is deprived of oxygen. The worst is yet to come. When the muscular restraint is removed by relaxation there is a sudden rush of blood to and from both heart and lungs. The heart is overtaxed. The lungs cannot sufficiently oxygenize the torrential inflow of blood. The blood passes into the circulation in an impure form. Great injury is done to the system. The desired benefits of exercise are lost. This is why excessive physical training, if long continued, or injudicious effort at lifting, running, leaping, etc., leads to heart, and sometimes lung, weakness.

It should not be forgotten that both these organs are at work all the time, not only helping us to live, but to perform our daily duties. If for no other purpose, they should be sedulously attended to. But in drawing on them for the extra power required for a course of exercise, how much more respect should be paid to them, and this especially since that quantity and quality of exercise which secures the evenest and completest muscular development, assist head and lungs in the performance of their functions. No two persons are constructed alike physically. Hence the need of adapting exercise to physical needs. A rigid rule for one may be fatal to another. So no two persons are equally affected by their occupations. After a day's toil, the one may require light exercise, the other vigorous. Whatever exercise is chosen, it should be such as to conduce to free breathing - not overbreathing - and thereby to keep strain from off the heart. Heart-strain impedes blood supply. When heart and lungs are not a source of anxiety to one exercising, the mind, soul and entire will-power will be thrown into the muscular movements which one has chosen for his exercise. Dumb-bells afford excellent exercise to most anyone but beginners are prone to the use of bells of too much weight. This is misdirected enthusiasm. It leads to harmful strain, if not directly of the arm muscles, at least of the tendons which carry the muscles over the elbows. The exercise becomes taxatious and in proportion the breathing is restrained, and the heart overtaxed. Fatigue is felt, whereas exhilaration should ensue. What applies to the muscles of the arms applies equally to all the muscles of the body. When an exercise throws too much burden on the tendons, it should be modified or abandoned.

The need for everyone studying out for himself or herself a regime of exercise suited to his or her physical condition, occupation, time at control, and of persisting in it till satisfactory results are obtained, is as great as the need of preparing oneself for a business, profession, or any walk of life calculated to bring competency and happiness.


Richardson JG, Ford WH, & Vanderbeck CC (1904). Physical Exercise And Culture And Their Bearings On Health And Strength (Book VII), Medicology Or Home Encyclopedia of Health, A Complete Family Guide., University Medical Society, pg 861-888.


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