Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER XIV



Primitive nations can dispense with physical training-schools as the creatures of the wilderness dispense with houses and clothes, but city-dwellers need a substitute for the lost opportunities of outdoor exercise. Mental culture and gymnastics should be as inseparable as body and soul. "It is impossible to repress luxury by legislation," says Solon in Lucian's "Dialogues of Anacharsis," but its influence may be counteracted by athletic games, which invigorate the body and give a martial character to the amusements of our young men."

And that remedial use of gymnastics requires the supervision of an expert teacher. It is not enough to provide an assortment of training-school apparatus and trust visitors to use it to good advantage. We might as well establish a free public drug-store and invite patients to come in and help themselves. I have seen athletics on the Let-Alone plan tried in a city park, and remember the results in the case of novices who got discouraged the first day by disfiguring accidents, and of others who contracted dyspepsia by exercising directly after dinner.

A well-developed system of physical culture offers remedies for almost every disorder of the human organism, and for all but the most hopeless malformations.

As a preliminary, gymnasium pupils should be advised to postpone the principal meal of the day (call it supper or dinner) to the late afternoon, and at least half an hour after the conclusion of their exercises. Violent muscular efforts can exhaust the vital vigor of the organism to a degree which—for a short time — may take away the appetite, and make it advisable to defer repletion for a little while; but even a direct rush from the gymnasium to the dining-room would be hygienically preferable to the opposite mistake. After-dinner rest is recommended by the plainest monitions of instinct, by drowsiness, apathy, and aversion to strenuous efforts of any kind. After being nursed, a fretful child will fall asleep; gorged animals become torpid and retire to a resting-place—some of them for days and weeks. The physiological reason can be found in the fact that exercise interferes with digestion, and obliges the stomach to retain an accumulation of ingesta till there is a risk of their undergoing a process of fermentation and becoming a positive danger to the system they were intended to nourish.

Beginners should also be warned against the mistake of continuing any special exercise to the length of excessive fatigue, and to avoid debilitating perspiration by choosing the lightest dress compatible with decency and comfort. "Gymnos," in the language of the ancient champion gymnasts, meant "naked." A hampering load of drygoods is, indeed, often the first impediment to the free use of our motive organs, and the professional English trainer Stephens, of sprinting fame, recorded his experience that barefoot boys were his most promising pupils, because perfectly straight toes are of primary importance as qualifications for a victory on the footrace course.

The kittels of South-German schoolboys—jackets with sleeves terminating at the elbow—are hard to beat for gymnastic purposes; and on general sanitary principles a course of physical culture should begin with arm-exercises. Dr. Schrodt called attention to the fact that in new-born children the lower extremities are only slightly larger than the arms, and that in our nearest zoological relatives the difference is next to nothing. But from the first to the end of the fourteenth year, when a boy may chance to be apprenticed to a handicraft, his legs get about ten times as many opportunities for development. At every step the muscles of the lower motive organs have to lift and move the weight of the body, while his hands are pocketed for future reference or swing idly to and fro. The result is a partial and unsymmetric tendency of growth. The stout pedestals of the organism support a rickety super-structure.

It should be the first object of gymnastics to counteract the consequences of that mistake, and a disposition to pulmonary disorders can thus often be nipped in the germ. Microbes are specially apt to fasten upon torpid and neglected parts of the organism. Like caterpillars scattered by a gale, they can be dislodged by a movement-cure, and, besides, arm-gymnastics help to correct the most frequent of all malformations: vis., a narrow chest.

Weak lungs must have been a rarely-heard-of complaint at a time when the rising generation of a whole continent was trained in spear-throwing. Consumption microbes had no chance to effect a lodging in a body getting the benefit of that exercise. And as a prescription for the lung-suffering results of indoor life no remedy of the drug-store can compete with a course of Gerwerfen, as the German turners call their attempt to revive that form of athletics, which a modern educator describes as follows:

"The missile is a lance of some tough wood (ash and hickory preferred) about ten feet long and one and a half inches in diameter, terminating in a blunt iron knob to steady the throw and keep the wood from splintering. A heavy post with a movable top-piece (the Ger-block) forms the target, the head-shaped top being secured by means of a stout cramp-hinge that permits it to turn over, but not to fall down. Distance all the way from ten to forty paces. Grasp the spear near the middle, raise it to the height of your ear, plant the left foot firmly on the ground, the right knee slightly bent, fix your eye on the target, lean back and let drive. If you hit the log squarely in the center, or a trifle higher up, it will topple over, but, still hanging by the clasp-hinge, can be quickly adjusted for the next thrower. A feeble hit will not stir the ponderous Ger-block; the spear has to impinge with the force of a sixty-pound blow, so that a successful throw is also an athletic triumph. The German spear throwers are generally lads after the heart of Charles Reade—ambidextrous boys, whose either handed strength and skill illustrates the fact that the antiquity of a prejudice proves nothing in its favor."

For indoor exercise an equivalent can be constructed with a stout rope and a couple of leather-covered iron rings—say, six inches in diameter. Dangling from a high ceiling or the beam of a barn, a grapple-swing can be used for a great variety of acrobatic evolutions: Dangling, swinging to and fro, slowly at first, then faster and faster (with the aid of the plunging feet); "turning over," and whirling heels over head, till the protest of the wrist-joints enforces a pause.

Breathing-pauses will be often needed the first week, but afterwards at even longer intervals—indicating the lung-strengthening effects of the exercise.

Lifting weights and holding them out at arm's length is a favorite amusement of the Tyrolese peasants, whose knee-joints mountain climbing has made almost fatigue-proof, and who intuitively seem to recognize the expedience of giving their arms the benefit of a movement cure. A by-purpose of theirs is the wish to strengthen their wrists for the ordeal of a wrestling match, and wrestlers with the incubus of a hereditary disorder would often do well to imitate their example.

Weight lifting in that manner is the germ of the dumb-bell cure and in more than one sense the hardiest of all health exercises. A home-made sandbag or a pail full of water will do for a beginning. In rain-weather, when the programme for pedestrian exercise has to be cancelled, dumb-bells or their substitutes are still available, even in a tenement attic, and their persistent use can be guaranteed to redeem the victims of general debility.

The beneficial effects of the exercise are indeed almost sure to manifest themselves in time to obviate the most of all pathological risks: The moral collapse of a patient who resigns himself to his fate and plunges into dissipations to "make an end of it" and harden the consummation of what he has come to consider an inevitable doom. A Texas cotton planter of my acquaintance worked like a beaver to save his crop from a protracted drought, but after watching the signs of the sky day after day for two months and seeing no indication of a change, all of a sudden became reckless, sold his horses, harness and farming tools at throw-away prices, got drunk, and wound up with an escapade that obliged him to enlist in the army to have a tent, if not a roof, over his head. A week after that cataclysm of his hopes the long-prayed for rain-clouds did rise from the gulf, and a series of abundant showers enabled the purchaser of his farm to double his stake the first year.

"Blast such a climate," growled his predecessor in self-defence, "if there had been the least sign of a change a little sooner, I might have pulled through."

And in that respect remedial gymnastics offer an inestimable advantage, both over drug-mongery and all sorts of faith-cures.

There are ebbs and tides in the vicissitudes of vital vigor, and the self-regulating faculties of the organism may rally in a manner to overcome both the disease and the drug; abiding faith may at last reward the patron of a prayer agent. But in either case the hoped-for symptoms of recovery are sadly apt to reveal themselves too late—the normal tendency of the experiment being, indeed, a change from bad to worse, for the sweat- box misery of a prayer conclave may prove as baneful as a course of blue-pills. Peering desperately for a sign of dawn, the patient at last becomes impatient, and procures an anodyne, or takes other measures to travel the dark road as swiftly as possible.

Movement-cures, on the other hand, reveal their benefit after the end of a week or so—at first by improvements in the facility of the exercise itself, but soon also by indisputable physiological changes for the better. The appetite revives, sleep becomes quieter and more protracted, till the depressing feeling of helplessness gives way to the buoyancy of self-confidence.

In that way Dr. Winship of Boston recovered his lost self-respect. The "crime of weakness" had obliged him to submit to the insults of a bully, and he resolved to become a man in the ancient heroic sense of the word or renounce an existence whose blessings had ceased to outweigh its evils. Lifting weights and swinging a pair of ring-weighted Indian clubs soon began to improve his appearance and inspire him with hopes he would not have bartered the wealth of a sick boodle magnate, but he continued his exercises, adding heavier and heavier rings, he continued to throw weights and lift weights till he became the physical superior of his insulter and at last a modern Samson, able to handle burdens in a way that transcends belief—and incidentally equally expert in the task of grappling with the burdens of existence. Bag-punching may be made a diverting intermezzo of more strenuous exercises, and it is altogether a good plan to vary the programme of gymnastic prescriptions, now and then. There, as elsewhere, a change of employment will make frequent fast days less necessary. Canadian lumbermen, in the blest absence of Blue-law spies, often devote their Sundays to hunting trips and scramble up and down deep mountain ridges, with all the energy of sportsmen who have passed the week in a city office and need their holidays for outdoor exercise. Those anti-Sabbatharian woodcutters may actually get a double dose of hard work on their leisure day, but cheerfully go to chopping again on Monday morning, while a month of uniform drudgery would probably put half of them on the sick-list.

That there are true specifics on the remedy-list of the gymnasium, as well as of the drug store, is proved by the efficacy of the movement-cure for asthma. A straight stick, about five feet long, is marked from end to end with deep notches—some twenty of them altogether. A ten-pound weight with a hook complete the inexpensive apparatus. The exercise consists in grasping the stick at the thicker end, raising it to the level of the chin and thrusting it out like a fencing-foil, draw it back slowly and push it out again, keeping it as nearly as possible horizontal. Then hook the weight to one of the near-by notches and try to repeat the home-thrust manœuvre. Every notch further out will increase the weight and the strain on the arm muscles, till at last a slip from the level indicates the limit of the experiment. With the weight on the farthest practicable notch even an athlete will notice that the exercise reacts on the mechanism of the lungs. The breath comes and goes in gasps,—involving coughs, perhaps, if the bronchial tubes are clogged with phlegm, but at the same time the feeling of pulmonary impediments is gradually relieved. The experimenter finds that he can breathe freer and deeper than before. That improvement may not be a permanent one, but the beneficial after-effects of the exercise just suffice to break the spell of an asthma fit. A daily repetition of the cure at last obviates the risk of a relapse for weeks to come; the patient can relax the strictness of his dietetic precaution and venture to leave his sleeping chair for a horizontal couch without the dread of being waked by a suffocation fit.

And it is a significant fact that not every kind of arm-exercise will serve the purpose of an asthma cure. Wood-cutting, for instance, is very apt to exert an opposite effect; the shock seems to aggravate the distress of the lungs and tighten the grip of the dyspnœa or chronic disability to get a full breath of life-air. Nor is that experience limited to weaklings. I remember an interview with a broad-shouldered, but financially rather straightened, Tennessee mountain carpenter, who confessed with a sigh that he was obliged to do nearly all his axe work by proxy. "I used to try it, anyhow," said he, "but it 'cut my wind' so often that I'm not going to put my foot in that trap again. It's better to be poor than going through such misery"—stating several cases to illustrate a theory to the effect that fate had reduced him to the alternative of getting short of cash or of air.

Weight-carrying in warm weather, by the way, is likewise so unmistakably detrimental to the comfort of weak lungs, that asthma patients instinctively avoid farm work, though they may be fond of country life and outdoor exercise.

About twenty years ago a North Yankee invented a "rowing machine," which he intended to facilitate the preparatory exercises of oarsmen,—without perhaps suspecting that he had provided an almost infallible mechanical constipation cure. The apparatus can be worked indoors, and adapted to various degrees of strength, and the exercise (a close imitation of the movements incident to the task of rowing a cockle-boat against the stream) reacts on the functions of the digestive organs in a manner that must be experienced to be credited. Close tools that have resisted other sanitary prescriptions and yielded only temporarily to drastic drugs, are relieved permanently before the end of half a week. An hour of work in the morning and about half an hour in the evening (before supper) is enough to insure that result, and in combination with cold sponge-baths will make drug-medication wholly superfluous in all but the most inveterate cases of dyspepsia. Far-gone dyspeptics have to invoke the third remedy of nature: A fasting-cure. In cool weather the triple prescription will do its work in a couple of weeks and so effectively that subsequent relapses can be avoided by the most ordinary dietetic precautions.

In a former chapter I have mentioned a movement-cure specific for diarrhœa, viz., pedestrian exercise, especially in warm weather. On stormy winter days carrying weights (say, buckets full of coal) upstairs, for an hour or two, will prove a remedial equivalent. With the co-operation of a spare diet its efficacy will manifest itself before the end of the second day, unless the digestive organs should have been outrageously deranged by the abuse of virulent drugs.

Sleeplessness will eventually yield to almost any kind of physical exercise (quicker than to brain work), but among its mechanical specifics a German physician mentions mountain climbing. In explanation of his personal experience he has a theory that vertigo (dizziness) and the excitement of a perilous path at the brink of steep cliffs affect the brain in a manner that craves the relief of sleep. He also recommends several gymnastic substitutes (Ersatz Mittel), e. g., ladder climbing on the hand-over-hand plan. Place a long stout ladder against a wall at an angle of 45 degrees, and attend to the precautions against the risk of slipping. Then step underneath, grasp the highest round you can reach with outstretched arms, draw yourself up to the next higher one—feet now dangling clear off the ground; up to the next, higher again, and so on, till dizziness or exhaustion suggest the descent of man. Rest for a few minutes, or engage in lighter exercise, then at it again, and after half an hour of ups and downs conclude the soiree, and watch its effects on the chance for a good night's rest. It is a common experience of mountain tourists that, upon retiring for the night, they are for a while haunted by visions of yawning chasms, till yawns of a different sort offer a change of programme, and the Brocken-spectre ridden brain seeks refuge in slumber. The blest contrast of the horizontal couch may help to enhance the attractiveness of that change, and sleep supervenes without the aid of opiates.

The excitement of competitive gymnastics is equally effective in relieving the torpor of the reaction following the abuse of strong liquors. With all the firm resolves inspired by the appeals of a temperance orator, the new convert cannot help feeling a more and more urgent craving for a stimulant of some sort or other, and by a sort of instinct, welcomes an opportunity for soul-stirring pastimes. Miners at work in a bonanza pit would scorn the offer of a dram-bottle—they have found a more pleasant intoxicant. Gamblers, too, become abstemious under the influence of an exciting game, especially as long as the dice fall in their favor; and mountain peak climbers of the Tyndall school ask no better tonic.