How A Powerful Stomach May Be Acquired
( Originally Published 1904 )
No advantage to your vital power is to be gained-by any method of exercise that does not provide abundant work for strengthening the muscles of the stomach and the small intestine.
As has been pointed out, all repair to the tissues of the body comes through the nutritive matter carried to the cells by the blood. Now, nourishment cannot enter the blood until it has been chemically prepared in the stomach and in the small intestine with the aid of the juices that are secreted in those two organs. Yet it is not enough that the juices flow around the food. The food must be worked through the stomach and intestine, so that its mixing with the gastric and intestinal juices may be most thorough. It is not until this has been done that all of the available nutrition can be extracted from the chyme and chyle.
This, then, shows the necessity of a mechanical process, which is furnished by the involuntary muscles of the stomach and of the small intestine. You will note that I have written involuntary muscles. The muscles that have to do directly with the work of digestion are not like the muscles in the arm for in-stance, which we can cause to contract by a conscious effort of the will. The involuntary muscles that control the workings of the digestive organs do so without the slightest conscious direction of our will. They go on working whether we are wide awake or sound asleep, and' in each instance we are not con-serous of their efforts.
The involuntary muscles of the stomach, controlled by the nerves of the sympathetic system, set up a churning movement that goes-on and on, from the instant that food enters the organ until the last morsel of it has been expelled. Without this churning there could be no proper admixture of the gastric juice and the food.
And the same state of affairs prevails in the small intestine. In this instance the movement is con-trolled by a long-series of ring like muscles that alternately contract and relax, forcing the partially diingested food along through the intestine and mixing the bile and pancreatic juice with it. Thus the food is digested by involuntary muscular movement in the stomach and small intestine in addition to the chemical action that takes place within them.
It is apparent, then, that, without this muscular action, digestion could not be anything like complete. It is just as apparent that, if the power of these in-voluntary muscles is less than it should be normally, just so much is the digestive ability of the body lessened. And with the power of digestion weakened, it follows logically that the vital power of the human being must be less than normal. In other words, if you are not in a condition of perfect health, you are perilously near illness. And the amount and extent of your illness will greatly depend upon the extent to which the involuntary muscles of your digestive system are below normal strength.
For this reason one of the first steps in increasing vital power must be the strengthening of the muscles of the stomach and of the small intestine. What is the natural way of increasing the strength of a muscle? Exercise, of course; there isn't a sane man alive who will attempt to controvert this statement.
Perhaps you will find a stumbling block in the fact that the muscles of the stomach and of the small intestines are involuntary. How can muscles be benefited by exercise when they are not governed by any conscious effort of the will? It may even occur to you that the only real way of exercising the muscles of the stomach and of the intestines is to give them more and more food, thus forcing them to increased effort.
But this would be a conclusion both wrong and harmful.. In the abdomen there are a great many muscles of the voluntary kind those that are thoroughly under the control of the will. This you can prove for yourself by breathing deeply and rapidly and forcing your abdomen to rise and fall just as you wish it to. It is possible, even, to make these abdominal muscles move while breathing is practically suspended.
It is a principle of physical training that the vigorous and continued movement of voluntary muscles forces the involuntary muscles to take more than their accustomed share' of nourishment and exercise. Thus, by actively employing the voluntary muscles in the region of the waist-line, you strengthen the involuntary muscles and in so doing you increase the digestive functional power; and you thus make directly and rapidly for augmentation of vital power.
A little investigation and thought will show you what forms of exercises are needed for furthering the strength of the involuntary muscles of the stomach and of the small intestine. Any movement of the abdomen that is quick enough and vigorous enough to constitute exercise, answers the purpose. The exercises suggested by the illustrations in this chapter provide work that will be almost immediately advantageous.
While following these suggestions do not lose sight of the importance of another means of strengthening the muscles of the stomach and the small intestine. I refer to percussion. Tap the front and sides of the abdomen with the open hands or the fingers. Strike lightly and smartly, going over the entire external surface. Do not do this in a lackadaisical way, but with vim and thoroughness. At the same time avoid striking too heavily. The aim of percussion is to harden, not to bruise, the delicate muscles and it furthermore stimulates and quickens the flow of the blood in the abdominal region. Naturally, it would be unwise to attempt percussion when the stomach is filled.
Exercise 1. Recline flat on the back with the hands behind the" head. Now gradually rise to a sitting position. If you cannot keep your feet on the floor, put them under a sofa or bureau. After assuming a sitting position, bend far forward, return to former position reclining on the back. Continue the exercise until tired.