Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/89

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THE HEALTH INSTINCT

pots of the Pharaohs and the jolly admonition to the banqueters to "eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow ye die."

In the realm of muscular activity the health seeker may be told by the specialist that what he needs is more exercise, and that if he will only take a sufficient amount he will attain unto physiological perfection; while on the editorial pages of one of our dailies he reads that any exercise done in a perfunctory manner is positively harmful. One advises ten-mile walks, and another tells him that walking is the poorest of exercises. On the other hand, there is a numerous company of those who would have us attain the kingdom of health through faith rather than works. Truly, leading in the realm of the physical is as absurdly sectarian and dogmatic as it ever was in spiritual affairs. All can not be wholly right; nor all altogether wrong. Happily there is a Virgil to pilot one through the shades of half-truth expressed by the exercise cult, the chew-long circle, the low-proteid faith, or the Eddyite sisterhood. The guide is an old one—good sense—good animal sense of one's condition for work; in other words, instinct brought up to date.

From the lowest forms of life up, there are but three sets of activities, each depending on the others for its existence and condition—the consciousness of his needs, the ability to supply those needs, and the power to assimilate what has been secured. Life is but a continuous round of these, and there are no more and no less in man; the three functions are a bit more complicated, but they are at bottom the same. Among our animal ancestors each was dependent on himself, and his consciousness never failed to tell him just what and how much food to take, and how much and what kind of exercise he needed, to keep him in best fighting and hunting trim. If this consciousness (instinct) failed him, he went by the board. He took no exhausting walks to add to his energies, he knew better than to get drunk or stuff himself unnecessarily and so render himself a prey to his foes, and he had too much else to do to upset his bodily machinery by morbid introspection. Health magazines are hardly needed by a fox or a bear.

Civilization has brought with it dependence on others, and more time than the average man-animal knows what to do with. The man-child may go on a spree, knowing he will not be devoured piecemeal by his neighbors and that if he gets sick some one will take care of him, and so he goes on a spree, and so he is otherwise careless of his conduct. His instinct for health is blunted and rendered of less use through his dependence and his pleasure-of-the-moment excesses. Appetite, temporary pleasure and laziness, get the upper hand, though the consciousness of what is physically good or bad is still present and can be partially or wholly restored to controlling power. We once heard a young woman who delighted in breaking all the laws of health, remark, after hearing a lecture on the sin of disobedience to such laws,