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Exercise And The Heart

( Originally Published 1921 )

There is a close similarity between the management of a person who has a heart crippled by disease and the management of a young person who is preparing for an athletic contest. In the one case, we are trying to arrange it so that the person with a crippled heart can do more work with greater liberty as time goes on. In the other case, we are trying to build up a young and healthy heart so that it can respond to greater exertion than it could before. Both are a matter of hygiene and training. To get desired results, both must be supervised by those who know.

Every great student of the heart has gradually appreciated more and more the importance of exercise as a constructive influence in heart disease. At first thought this seems rather remarkable, and perhaps the use of exercise often seems reckless; but. I venture to say that if the damage done by too great restriction of effort were balanced by the damage done by too great freedom allowed to heart sufferers, the scale would fall rather on the side of the damage done by too great restriction. The difficulty lies in the fact that physicians often find it necessary to warn people in excess of their actual needs, because they can count only on partial obedience. One of the saddest things in the world is to have a young person unnecessarily cut off from all the pleasures and attainments of a normal existence. This is bad enough when it is necessary; when it is done unnecessarily it is a crime.

Perhaps the pleasantest work that comes as the result of the study of the heart is the possibility of restoring to society young people who have been unnecessarily deprived of all kinds of liberty; and of removing in older people the fear that they have carried with them day and night on account of supposed serious heart condition, which, on examination, proved to be innocent.

Exercise has two elements : one is its intensity, the other is its amount. People do not always appreciate this distinction. A man who can not climb stairs can often walk a long distance on the level, and a man who can not carry a hundred pounds can often carry twenty-five. Fatigue does not injure the heart as a rule, and strain is dangerous even for healthy people.

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