Why Physical Culture Fails

ALEXANDER BRYCE December 1 1906

Why Physical Culture Fails

ALEXANDER BRYCE December 1 1906

Why Physical Culture Fails


In spite of the vastly increased attention given nowadays to physical culture, the modem civilized man often exhibits marked signs of physical deterioration, Here is a very interesting explanation by a member of the Jb acuity, of the apparent paradox.

THE immense value of physical culture is to-day not disputed; its beneficial results are utilized to the full by the medical profession in the treatment of consumption, obesity, heart diesase, dyspepia, deformities, and many other departures from the healthy state. Such a craze, indeed, f ; exercise has arisen that its devotees are now more in danger from ovei-exertion than the reverse. In Norway tuberculosis is rife; in Sweden—the foremost gymnastic country in the world—onethird of the population dies before the age of twenty-one, and of the males who are left one-quarter are rejected for military service. In Germany only fiftj-four per cent, of the males are accepted for the Army, while England, the land of sport and open-air exercise, with a voluntary military service, is some degrees worse.

Now, the object of physical culture is to fit a man for the duties of daily life, so that he will be a better workman, a better citizen, a healthy man in the highest sense of that term. During exercise, seven times more air passes through the lungs than when at rest, and this has an enormous reflex influence on the whole body, stimulating the vital functions, burning up the waste matter, and expelling the poisons manufactured by the living tissues. The seeds of insomnia, nervous disease, and Bright’s disease are sown by inaction, and ■ sooner or later a sedentary man must become dyspeptic. Old age is kept at bay by rational exer-

cise. All centenarians have been active men.

What can possibly account, then, in the presenec of such a wave of enthusiasm for physical exercise, for the existence of so much physical deterioration °!

The first reason is the absence of system. Haphazard exercise is of very little use. Physical culture is exercise, but exercise with a systematized purpose to guide it good results are not likely to be obtained without the recognition of this fact. To be positively useful a system of physical culture must be comprehensive, easy of application, and must not absorb much time. There can, however, be no universal system— none applicable to the needs of everybody. The nearest approach to such a system is that originally introduced by Ling, and now much extended and developed under the name of ‘1 The Swedish System of Physical Education.” Its design is to train, not to strain, the body, to teach us how to make the best use of each muscle, and how to develop each organ to its full physiological limit.

The objection is often advanced that a man gets a sufficient amount ' of exercise in his daily occupation, and has neither time, inclination, nor energy for any more. But, it cannot be sufficiently emphasized, work is not exercise. In work a man does all he can to save exertion, and is seldom called upon to contract to the full any one of his muscles. His aim, indeed, is to save this contractile effort and to depend on the auto-

matic action of the muscle, his brain being in the object of his work, not in the conscious use of the muscles themselves. To effectively exercise a muscle, all the attention of the brain is required to contract it to the full.

Even where a man is engaged in an open-air occupation, such as gardening, it is wise to practice some form of physical culture to obviate the tendency to deformity which in these days of specialism is peculiar to each occupation, and to give gracefulness to the movements and agility and quickness to the body. Of all occupations gardening is the most healthful, yet it is very rare to see a well-formed, agile, perfectly healthy gardener. Most suffer from rheumatic pains, and there is an unnatural hardness in many of the muscles of the back—due to a development of connective tissue—a condition termed “muscle-bound,” defects which could easily be prevented by appropriate exercises. A modified form of compulsory military service is, in my opinion, a most admirable means of counteracting the tendency to physical deterioration in youth.

The second reason for the existence of physical deterioration is the adoption of a wrong system. This is very much worse than having no system at all, as much actual damage may easily be done to the internal organs. A wrong system often leads to a complete breakdown!

Broadly speaking, a community may be divided into two classes, the weak and the strong, and it is absolutely certain that not every weak man can become a strong man, no matter how much exercise he may indulge in. Strong men are born, not made. Physical culture may make a weak man strong, but only if he belongs to the strong type. Strength is a gift which increases

with use, and the legitimate object of physical culture is to develop the bodily powrers to their full physiological limit, beyond which it is dangerous to proceed.

On the other hand, a weak man may nearly always become a healthy man, though it is folly to attempt to emulate the professional strong man and expect, by even the most diligent use of certain exercises and apparatus, to approach him in strength. This, unfortunately, frequently does not become patent, however, until much damage has been wrought to the physical powers, and especially to the heart and nervous system.

The man whom I have designated the weak man may, like the racehorse, perform in his particular sphere as much, and possibly even more work, than the so-called strong man, who in turn is only useful as a beast of burden, and comparable to the cart-horse. The principle adopted in training is that of Milo and the calf—the addition of a little each day but, however true in theory, such a system is most difficult in practice, on account of the impossibility of knowing precisely how much should be added each day, or of recognizing when the proper limit has been reached. Violent exertion can never be useful, and almost always ends in irreparable strains, such as the rupture of a blood-vessel, or stretching the heart, examples of which are constantly coming before medical men. We must not for a single moment confuse physical culture for health with such systems, or even with needless and injurious forms of athleticism. Far more nervous systems are wrecked and exhausted by ill-directed over-exertion than can be' cured by intelligent culture of the physique.

A third reason is the adoption of a wrong diet. A great deal of erroneous teaching, which, because it is anunciated with impertinent emphasis, passes for gospel, has been lately promulgated on this subject. I have never subscribed to the doctrine that we are all given to over-eating, and yet this is the text which lately has occasioned more sermons than any other. My observation has convinced me, as it has many another man in my profession, that a very large proportion of people eat too little, and are much under-nourished. If there be any fault at all, it lies in taking too much proteid—i.e., the part of the food usually considered to contain the nourishment. If the well-to-do are in the habit of eating too much animal food, the same indictment can certainly not be made against the ordinary working-man.

It has been clearly shown by Professor Chittenden, working under the auspices of the United States Agricultural Bureau, that perfect health may be maintained on one ounce of animal food per day. But no amount of experimentation will ever carry conviction, because in this, as in most other things, every man is a law unto himself, and serious objection must always be taken to the theory of the ardent apostle that what suits him must of necessity suit every other man.

The old-fashioned method of training on great quantities of lean meat was based on a fallacy, was eminently risky, and was responsible for many cases of staleness and actual breakdown. Animal food is stimulating, and its strength-giving properties are more rapidly transferred to the tissues of the body but it fails to give the same amount of endurance as vegetable proteid, so that, in a contest where staying power is

required, a well-fed vegetarian is likely to lower the colors of the meateater. The athlete, however, should carefully study the pros and cons of the dietetic problem so far as they refer to his own case.

Whatever may be said of the merits of the two-meal-a-day and even the one-meal-a-day plan, three meals a day have stood the test of experience, and are much more likely to be generally useful to the average man. The additional afternoon-tea, with its two or three cups of stewed tea and unlimited supplies of cake and bread and butter, is certainly the cause of more indigestion and other maladies than all the others together. Were this meal alone omitted, many persons afflicted with obesity would soon lose their excess of adipose tissue. The hot saccharine fluid, with starch and fatty accompaniments, is replete with fat-producing elements, and if only half an ounce per day be added to the weight in this way, it means almost a stone by the end of the year! The Japanese drinks a great deal of tea; but, besides preparing it in such a way as to extract the volatile oil, which gives the flavor, without disolving out the theine, the active principle to which are due the intoxicating properties of tea, he adds neither milk nor sugar. His tea-drinking, therefore, is simply a means of imbibing agreeably flavored, sterilised water.

A fourth reason for physical deterioration is to be found in the many erroneous ideas still extant regarding bathing. The remedial agencies supplied by nature are by no means to be despised but it appears to me that we have misunderstood the true function of the bath, which is, after all, primarily to cleanse. No, doubt a morning plunge in cold water has

a bracing or tonic effect on most strong young men; but, in principle, a tonic is quite wrong, especially in the morning—the time when, on account of our long night’s rest, we stand least in need of it. A tonic is in the nature of a stimulant, and he who indulges in this luxury must be prepared to pay the penalty, which, sooner or later, is demanded of all. We are everlastingly hearing of the reaction which it is necessary to obtain after a cold bath, and the explanation is given that we must have a healthy glow all over our skin just after the plunge. But this is a most fallacious test. There are very few who do not experience this feeling of delight and pleasurable glow as a sequence of a cold plunge bath. The true test of the suitability of the bath is to feel this healthy glow’ all through the day. Now, for one wdio fails ‘to get this so-called reaction immediately after the bath there are dozens who do, and yet feel tired, depressed, cold, and irritable three or four hours after. They never associate these m pleasant feelings with their morning cold bath, though they are decided indications for dispensing with such a dangerous stimulant. It is no uncommon experience to find many w’ho, relying on the pleasurable after-glow and ignoring the subsequent drowsiness and discomfort, continue to bath when it has begun to do their bodies serious damage. As in many other things, the Japanese is here again in the right. The well-trained athlete of Japan would scout the notion of taking a cold bath, whereas he absolutely revels in the excessively hot bath, taking, one at least every day, and staying in for one or more hours on each occasion. For the great majority of people, especially in the morning and

after exercise, a tepid soap-and-water bath, followed by friction with a good Turkish towel, is the best form of introduction to the duties of the day.

A fifth reason is to be found in the tendency to adopt a wrong position in standing, sitting, and walking. We stand chiefly on one foot, and one shoulder becomes higher than die other; we sit in the same position as the “scorcher” on his bicycle, often with our legs crossed, and thus the spine gets twisted, the pelvis distorted, and the sciatic nerves damaged by pressure. We pursue our occupations with one hand or one arm, and so become lop-sided and unequally developed. We walk with protruding abdomen, and head shot forward between the shoulders, instead of being thoroughly braced up with the back of the neck touching the upper edge of the collar. Many deformities are produced, and even much indigestion brought on, by the slovenly position adopted at table ; indolence is not the only reason for reclining on a couch at meal-times, as is the general custom in the East. Eupepsia is encouraged, and the most lively sense of bien-etre induced, by half an hour’s rest after meals flat on the back, with the hips elevated on a cushion, the neck supported by the same means.

A sixth reason is the lack of openair life, the common lot of all citydwellers. The greatest surgical discovery of the nineteenth century was dirt, matter in the wrong place which attacks every solution of continuity of the human skin; the greatest medical discovery that will be made in this century will be dust. It takes at least two hours in fresh open-air each day to counteract the effects of the dust we inhale in dining-room,

drawing-room, bedroom, workshop, city street, and country road alike, without estimating the wear and tear of the tissues due to nature’s excretory effort to intercept this terrible enemy. If we would evade this death-dealing dust, the cause alike of consumption, sore throat, cold in the head, and pneumonia, it is essential to betake ourselves to parks and open-air spaces, green fields, and country lanes.

Many diseases of the alimentary canal, especially acute diarrhoea, are directly brought about by the contamination of food which has been exposed in a dust-polluted atmosphere, and, in these days of motorcars, far more elaborate precautions ought to be taken to protect milk, meat, fruit and vegetables, from dust and flies, which, after feeding on garbage of all kinds, bestow their attention on milk and other foods displayed at shop-doors and in other equally unprotected places.

An important factor in this connexion is the length of ladies’ dresses. When the wearers enter and leave public conveyances, cross streets, and even sometimes wThile walking, skirts are allowed to trail in the dust, from which they catch up innumerable colonies of microbes, and transfer them alike to public meeting-places and private dwellinghouses.

A seventh reason is closely bound up with the last—viz., the question of recreation. “Recreation” and exercise for physical culture are not by any means the same thing. The former term should be applied only to such exercises or sports as do not require any close application of the mind, and, indeed, are usually undertaken more as a relief to the mind than as a development of the body.

For the latter purpose, the most careful concentration of the mind on the movements performed is necessary, and, without in any way exhausting or overstraining the organs of the body, fifteen or twenty minutes daily will keep the body in the highest state of physical perfection, though the too ardent pursuit of such exercise is apt to degenerate into mere muscle-culture, far in excess of the requirements of the body, and making great demands on the organs of circulation and respiration. It is often associated with ready exhaustion and a feeling of listlessness or staleness overtaking both body and mind, caused by the muscular and nervous system being filled with the acid waste products of fatigue. In such a condition the body demands rest and the return to that normal amount of exercise which experience has taught to be sufficient.

When, however, on account of a sedentary occupation, or of the too limited use of the muscles in the daily occupation, a feeling of exhaustion is brought about, then it is an indication to indulge in some form of exertion which demands no waste of nervous energy by mental concentration. Games such as golf, billiards, and bowls are excellent examples of exercise for recreative purposes. It is even conceivable that in such circumstances justification may be found for occasionally watching a football or cricket match, though this is no vindication for those who thus spend all their leisure time indulging in no form of exercise whatever, and deluding themselves with the belief that they are athletes.

The last reason worthy of mention is an inordinate love of pleasure and ease which seems to be the special

peculiarity of people in our days. It has been said that it is better to wear out than to rust out; but pleasure is far more exhausting than work. Sensations of pleasure and pain are both conveyed by the same nerves, and a too frequent repetition of the pleasureable sensation is speedily followed by a diminution of the power to please and the substitution of pain.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy ; ’1 but our pleasures should be sought for in the ordinary course of our everyday occupation, or in the recreations we indulge in as a relief to our minds and bodies. The pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself is always to be depreciated, and usually ends in an exhausted mind and an exhausted body.