Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER XIII



In latitudes of an inhospitable climate an opportunity for indoor exercise has indisputable advantages, but involves the risk of defective ventilation, and the ideal of a rainday refuge for votaries of the movement-cure is the drill-shed of an Austrian household regiment: A structure 300 feet long by 60 broad, and about 25 feet between the floor and the ceiling of the main hall, yet equipped with hot-air pipes sufficient to counteract the frosts of the coldest winter day.

A time may come when every country town of the civilized North-lands will have a public gymnasium of that sort, and in the meanwhile indoor-workers must contrive to defy the main obstacle to effective ventilation, viz., the superstitious dread of cold draughts.

The supposed connection of catarrhs ("colds") with currents of cold air is strikingly refuted by the practical argument of an open smithy. Blacksmith—as well as the operatives of Northern rolling-mills—often work all day long in close proximity to a blazing fire, while a wide-open door admits the blizzards of the mid-winter season; yes their health and longevity is far above the average and might rank with that of gardeners, if they were not obliged to inhale coal-fumes, as well as ice-winds. Their special work, it is true, tends to counteract the effects of the one-sided system of exercise that explains the shortcomings of nine out of ten health-seekers. "Our patients get an immense deal of encouragement to develop the muscles of their motive organs," writes the visitor of a climatic sanitarium; "there are mountain-excursions and forest-excursions, five times a week, and every evening troops of volunteers clamber up a prospect rock to see the sunset and get an appetite for supper. Besides, there is a Kneipp-cure department, and the trots through the wet meadow often take the form of a foot-race. But what are our arms doing all that while? Lifting a half-ounce spoon from plate to mouth or reaching up to take a hat from the rack."

It would be no exaggeration to say that the legs of the average city dweller get a thousand times as much exercise as his arms.

Amateur-blacksmithing, on the Elihu Burritt plan, remedies that disproportion, and the "Learned Blacksmith" went so far as to recommend it as a mental and moral remedy. He learned to speak four different languages and had a book acquaintance with half a dozen more, including Hebrew and Greek. Memorizing a hundred words an hour was about the average of his linguistic tasks, up to his fiftieth year, and he was firmly persuaded that sledge-hammer matinee helped to counterbalance the dead-weight of such burdens. And, moreover, he considered a visit to his smithy a ready expedient in ethical emergencies. If anything happened to rouse his indignation he would skip downstair and hammer away like Thor and Vulcan for a minute or two, then draw a deep breath and feel that the rising choler had been successfully "worked off." "What else would you propose?" he inquires; "sit still and swallow your wrath, to imitate the saints? Well, try it, and see if the suppressed gall doesn't surge back a dozen times before night, making you as cross as an old spinster with no moral outlet but her scandalous tongue."

Sledge-hammering also helps to invigorate the lungs and shake the diaphragm in a manner pretty sure to dislodge the lurking imps of dyspepsia. Violent movement-cures may not be advisable in the far-gone stages of debilitating disorders, but, on the whole, will do for a crapulent organism what a brisk gale does for the forests of a tropical coast-swamp that may vegetate in a calm, but cannot get rid of their dead leaves and mouldering branches. Microbes have a predilection for a quiet boarding-house and do not often frequent a blacksmith's body.

Woodchopping answers the same purpose, and in a climate like that of our lake-shore States it would be worth while to weather-tighten and warm a shed, in order to try Mr. Gladstone's favorite prescription without the risk of frozen toes. The "Sage of Hawarden" worked in the open air, but the winter-climate of Southern Britain, under the parallel of Montreal, is in reality milder than that of Maryland. Wood-choppers indulging the luxury of a weather-proof building—heated, perhaps, with a chip-fire flickering in an open fireplace, can now and then give their lungs the benefit of a draught of purer oxygen by stepping out in the storm and fetching additional logs from the wood-pile.

Asthma-patients, with a little experience in the caprices of their mysterious disorder, will not be apt to protract that special test of strength beyond the first premonitions of fatigue. Burden-carrying is always liable to bring on a spasmodic fit of an affection that cannot be provoked by other forms of exercise, even in preposterous overdoses. A bicyclist may work his pedals till his spine is twisted by cramps and his fingers threaten to relax their grip; his lungs may heave and gasp without betraying any other symptoms of distress, a pedestrian may trudge along till his knee-joints stagger and sleep tries to enforce its rights in the middle of the track, but no trace of asthma, while a shouldered weight of perhaps less than a hundred pounds suddenly "cuts the breath," as if the valves of the respiratory apparatus had closed with a snap. "Dyspnœa," or air-famine, pathologists call a paroxysm of that sort, and the difficulty in drawing a full breath may yield to a cold sponge-bath or defy all remedies and keep the patient in misery for weeks together.

Light indoor work: amateur carpentering, house-cleaning, adjusting stove-pipes or library shelves, is, on the other hand, the most efficient of all asthma-cures, and far more permanent in its effects than the chemical specifics (stramonium smoke, etc.) that relieve the spasm for a few minutes without preventing the risk of a speedy relapse. And it is a curious and almost unaccountable fact that smoke, dust, and other impurities of the indoor atmosphere, rather enhance the effectiveness of the prescription for that special purpose. The most plausible guess at the rationale of that experience is the conjecture that the aforesaid admixtures of the indoor air oblige the lungs to effect the work of expulsion by opening some gate which incidentally relieves the spasm of the asthma-fit. Always provided that the remedy is applied only at long intervals and in moderate doses. An excess of dust, breathed day after day, clogs the tissue of the lungs to an irremediable degree, and millers are notoriously subject to chronic asthma in its most incurable, if not most distressing, forms.

The poet-philosopher Goethe remarks that every brain-worker should consult his sanitary interests by following some mechanical trade as a by-occupation, and the successor of Frederic the Great made that advice a pretext for establishing the rule that every prince of the House of Prussia must serve an apprenticeship at some handicraft. Some of the uniformed youngsters accordingly learn printing, others bookbinding, but about four out of five prefer a curriculum in a carpenter's shop. A hundred years ago the Berlin wits used to hint that the by-law in question might prove useful under circumstances that obliged a good many refugees from neighboring France to try their hands at the unaccustomed occupation of useful work, but the rule is still in force, and none of the royal blue-coats have been the worse for the investiture of a carpenter's apron. Joiner's work: sawing, jack-planing, and hammering exercises nearly every muscle of the human body, and has the incidental advantage of a pastime that grows on the habit and can become a passion, like gardening and watchmaking.

And not all "exercise with a useful by-purpose" can be recommended from that point of view. There are some extremely utilitarian occupations that lack the spice of variety and a personal interest. In some cities of British India, where labor is cheap and coal very dear, hundreds of vagabonds are often roped in to operate the machinery of a large workshop on the treadmill plan; but in spite of sanitary precautions a wheel-treader every now and then steps down and out with the unfeigned symptoms of complete exhaustion. "I tried it, for the fun of it," says Sir Samuel Baker, "but was unable to persist for more than ten minutes, though I am pretty sure that in my Ceylonese mountain camp the excitement of a boar-chase often enabled me to exert the tenfold amount of muscular effort without any conscious trace of fatigue."

Every well-arranged household, in fact, should have an indoor sanitarium in the form of a general repair-shop, or Jack-of-all-trades resort. From an artistic point of view the products of the establishment may prove shameful failures, but they will save doctor's bills and perhaps police-court fines.

"In freeing themselves from the bonds of an unworthy attachment," says Madame de Sévigné, "men have one great advantage: they can plunge into business, and forget;"—and a rush into a convenient workshop will often solve the problem of fighting down minor temptations that cannot be exorcised by study.

Combined with wholesome food and steady habits, indoor work has more than once enabled city-dwellers to emulate the physical prowess of rustics. Frederic Barbarossa's armies had been recruited among the bare-fisted peasantry of the South-German highlands but on the battlefield of Legano were crushingly defeated by the train-bands of some fourteen Italian cities. Roman legionaries held their own against the giants of the Teutonic forests, and the levies of the Hanseatic League prevailed against the federation of the iron-clad cavaliers that had for centuries treated them as an inferior species of bipeds. Lionheart Richard came to grief in a siege, and his German peer, Eberhart Longbeard of Wirtemberg was terribly beaten by the home-guards of a little manufacturing town.

"Wie haben da die Gerber so meisterlich gegerbt;
Wie haben da die Färber so blutig roth gefärbt"—

"How the tanners plied their trade,
How the dyers dyed so red!"

—and all that in spite of the fact that the artisans of the Middle Ages were physically handicapped by the unsanitary condition of their streets and dwellings.