( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PHYSICAL culture means the education of all the physical powers of the human body, and those who require this most are the brain-workers, the student, all persons of sedentary habits, the invalid, and especially the women and children.
I maintain that a sound, practical knowledge of anatomy and physiology would tend more to prevent disease than all drugs and medicines to cure it. It would do so by teaching, among other things, that a healthful vitality of the muscles of the trunk of the body (the chest, the abdomen, and the back) are indispensable for the healthful working of the visceral organs (the lungs, the heart, and the digestive apparatus), and that such vitality can be maintained for any muscle only by its constant legitimate exercise. But apart from physiology, it is a well-known fact, that muscles are sometimes entirely, and often partially, lost and wasted from mere want of employment.
I think the assertion is susceptible of the clearest proof that in nine out of ten cases congestion and indigestion, and all sorts of dyspeptic disorders, with their concomitants, arise solely from muscular weakness in the parts concerned. The question then arises, how is this state of things to be prevented? And the answer is, by regular and systematic exercise. There are many who try to prevent disease by periodical administrations of medicines ; some who at regular intervals (whether unwell or not) take their pills to "assist the liver to act," others who take "strengthening medicines" to give "tone to the nerves," and so on. What an easy thing, indeed, it would be could one sit in his armchair and by swallowing a few doses of some nasty stuff or other strengthen the lungs, fortify the stomach, or insure longevity! Easy indeed! But unfortunately in this world we generally have to fight and to work for what is worth having. And surely if there is anything worth working for it is health, with all its blessings—not that health which means absence from pain, but that which means the stirring pulse of bliss in every breath we draw, and which brings in its train peace, and happiness, and good will.
As a rule, walking is adopted by most persons as their only exercise, but this is very defective, in that it calls only the leg muscles into vigorous action, leaving four other great classes of muscles for the most part unused. These are the muscles of the shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back. The first serve for moving the arms, and the second for expanding the chest for respiration. And since the circulation, as well as the condition of the blood, depends upon the respiration, it is apparent that the energy of the whole process of physical life is directly dependent on the power with which this function is performed. Not only by lack of exercise in general, but especially by want of motion of the arms, respiration is weakened and rendered imperfect, and as a consequence the elastic wall of the chest is either not fully expanded and developed, or becomes abnormally contracted. The blood being from this cause insufficiently oxygenized in the lungs, it is obvious that the conditions established are favorable to diseases of the heart and lungs, and other organs.
The muscles of the abdomen aid by their contractile power to strengthen the functions of the abdominal organs, as, for in-stance, digestion, and they also cooperate most efficiently with the chest muscles in the act of respiration, and with others for producing a variety of movements. The importance of pre-serving the elasticity and strength of this class of muscles is therefore obviously great.
The muscles of the back keep the body erect, move it from side to side, and cooperate with those which govern respiration; they hinder any cramping of the stomach and other abdominal organs, whereby the latter are enabled to perform their functions as freely as possible. It is thus easy to perceive that development' of these muscles of the trunk will not only prevent curvature of the spine, or crookedness, but a train of evils of greater consequence.
Now, let us look into those places where persons go to take their exercise, the gymnasiums, and you will be astonished in the most of them to find that men with strong arms and well-developed chest are constantly swinging clubs, pulling chest-weights, or performing other movements with arm apparatus, while they do nothing to develop their thin legs or weakened abdominal muscles.. On the other hand, men having strong legs incline to constantly develop them, leaving the arms and upper portions of the body without proper exercise. Good jumpers will keep on jumping; good runners will run; good throwers will throw or put shot, and so on. Again, you will observe that they frequently use very heavy weights, so that each pull or lift will bring on their greatest effort ; their faces are becoming purpled, as though they were going to have an apoplectic stroke, and they are working and blowing like small steam engines.
Further, I must say, that even many of our popular sports, such as bicycling, lawn tennis, baseball, rowing, etc., although among the best, and ought to be practised by everybody, also give an incomplete and "one-sided" exercise, and hence a partial development. Well, what is there to be done? The walking is not sufficient, the average gymnasium, and even our outdoor sports, do not give the right development.
Again, the answer is, "take regular and systematic exercise." Go to any gymnasium where there is a competent teacher, who has given his time to the study of the human body and its requirements, and who knows how to lead you on gradually up-ward from the simplest exercises to the heavier ones, letting each exercise link into the other without any strain or particular effort of the muscles.
You do not go to the gymnasium to be an athlete or acrobat, etc., but to produce a healthy growth of your whole body, and to maintain a strong and healthy physique.
In judging of the effects of exercise we think the least of the muscular development produced, for the effect of all general exercise is to develop muscle, and this aim is reached without especially working for it. But we think all the more of the effect produced on nerves, blood-vessels, etc., for the result in this direction can be vastly changed by varying the movements. Measuring a man's strength, we should compare the man to himself. We must not say that a man is strong because he can lift so many pounds, or jump so high, etc. But when he possesses a healthy, well-balanced, and well-proportioned body, which his will has under good control, then he possesses "physical culture," even though in the eyes of some he may seem weak as compared to others.
Every boy and girl can obtain good health and physical culture if they will only try ; even if they cannot go to a gymnasium where there is a good teacher.
By "home gymnastics" and plenty of sunshine, fresh air, good food and water, the most delicate childwill gradually be-come strong. Don't keep the sun away from you by shades, etc., but be right in it (except in the hottest summer days) and as much as possible. Have all the fresh air you can get, and sleep with open windows summer and winter. Eat good, digestible food, and very little of pies, pastry, candy, hot bread, etc. Drink water (not ice water) between meals, but not with meals ; and bathe often ; a cold bath every morning is especially good for most persons.
Then take some exercises such as are prescribed elsewhere. They are all good for anybody, but some may suit one case better than another. Try to take each exercise in as good a form as possible, and you will be astonished to see the result.