GENERAL ARTICLES

Do Men Die of Vanity?

Does the middle-aged male risk his life by indulging in strenuously competitive exercise? Here is what the doctors say

BEVERLEY OWEN May 1 1932
GENERAL ARTICLES

Do Men Die of Vanity?

Does the middle-aged male risk his life by indulging in strenuously competitive exercise? Here is what the doctors say

BEVERLEY OWEN May 1 1932

Do Men Die of Vanity?

GENERAL ARTICLES

Does the middle-aged male risk his life by indulging in strenuously competitive exercise? Here is what the doctors say

BEVERLEY OWEN

ONE of the most consuming passions of mankind has been to retain youth, and, when it is lost, to reclaim it. Under modern living conditions, youth is perhaps more desirable than ever before. No one wants to be listed for the shelf, much less put there. Active life, doing the things other people do, is too glamorous.

But there is evidence, a very morbid sort of evidence, that the present generation of middle-aged males is defying limitations and trying to compete with younger men on equal terms, challenging Nature and the inescapability of old age.

Heart disease is definitely on the increase. And heart disease is chiefly a middle-age affair. It kills about ten men to one woman.

Is it possible that the older men of today are victims of vanity? Else, why this wholesale summary execution?

Aunt Angina Pectoris; her brother, Colonary Thrombosis; and all their kill-joy cardiovascular relatives, including High Blood Pressure and Hard Arteries, have knocked more people for the full count in Canada during the last two years than cancer. A Metropolitan Insurance Company bulletin says so.

At thirty-five which is the edge of senescence, these hectic days heart trouble is a matter for solemn reflection. At forty-five it is a serious factor.

It is ruthless in the older age groups, fifty to seventy. An insurance medico, important enough to pass on million dollar policies, told me this sad news.

Heart trouble is a dirty fighter. Often it hits when the victim isn't looking. Sometimes in an office, ¡x^rhaps at the telephone, now in a street car, while shaving, at a hockey match, or—as is frequently recorded on the eighteenth green.

In 1921 degenerative disease a category which emphasizes heart ailments accounted for 300 deaths for each 100,000 of population. In 1929 it got the blame for 520. The sharpness with which the graph line shoots upward on the diagram is shocking. In the same period, the mortality from communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, fell from 400 for each 100.000 of population to 150.

The contrast shows the trend of life.

Specific reasons are advanced for the increase in heart disease the pace and tensity of modern life, the strain and excitement of the war years, neglect of childlxxxl symptoms, disdain of such signjxists as rheumatism and rheumatic fever. Also, it is hereditary.

It would be sheer libel, of course, to say that all middleaged hearts are defective, or that even a majority of them have a loose nut. Most of them, likely, are as sound as a bell, either through the grace of Providence or decent consideration by their owners.

"There is neither a plague nor an outbreak,” an insurance doctor stated. "All you can say is that heart disease in its various forms is seriously incident.”

Symptomatic Diagnosis

SOME kinds of cardiac trouble are curable, and in other chronic forms the effect may be neutralized. Ordinary caution in most cases means prolonged life. And the same amount of care by active citizens who so far have had no trouble, will keep their blood pumps in good running order.

But the mortality figures would show that caution and the yearning to be about and doing, to look young, stay in the swim and keep in step with the younger crowd, don’t cooperate. On the face of it, the older men prefer to risk a jab from Angina rather than act their ages. To what extent vanity enters the death reckoning is a matter only of inference, and perhaps for controversy, but it is apparent that a good many of the seniors think they can carry on like undergraduates and get away with it.

Here is a case in point.

A citizen, just past sixty, superficially sturdy, announced his intention to install one of those newfangled rowing machines in the attic of his Toronto home. All of a sudden he fancied himself as an indoor oarsman, dolled up like a Greek god. winning imaginary races on Lake Ontario, a potential challenger for the Diamond Sculls.

He revealed his ambition to Dr. Gordon Jackson, the official guardian of Toronto’s health, with an air that invited the latter’s enthusiastic benediction. Instead of encouraging him, the doctor blandly hinted that he’d probably kill himself.

“If you’re looking for exercise, why don’t you walk to your office every morning?” he asked. “Get up early enough and hike it. If you want to ride or drive home in the evening, all right.’’

The would-be attic athlete took the warning and, to his

credit, acted accordingly. Two weeks later he admitted he never felt better in his life.

“That gentleman was probably just seeking some way to satisfy vanity,” Dr. Jackson told me, and proceeded to classify him more thoroughly.

“He is like many other men of middle age who, for the most part, have lived sedentary lives and taken little part in sports or outdoor activities. Eventually they are inspired by friends and the example of men about them, and they decide impulsively to make up for lost time. The mere idea gives them a sprightly air, bolsters their pride and fills them with physical ambition. They take up badminton, golf, or perhaps tennis. They become determined and obstinate, grit their teeth and take on all-comers. They make no concessions, want no quarter and give none. The usual daily office round continues with no lessening of mental strain, and certainly they haven’t the slightest intention of foregoing their three or four nights a week at contract bridge.”

Life for these “old-young” fellows becomes generally accelerated, Dr. Jackson said. He meant, no doubt, that, having acquired a synthetic rejuvenation, they take to dancing and moonlight bathing and summer underwear in January. Their new self-respect forbids them appearing in dressing rooms with woolies and extras; and sometimes they deliberately forget goloshes.

Is it any wonder that outraged vascular systems begin to rebel? The new mode of life, besides encouraging heart irregularity, also leaves an opening for pneumonia, bronchitis and kidney trouble.

Ignorance of On:’s Capacity

A GENTLEMAN who calls himself “Canada’s greatest strong man,” claims five world titles for weight lifting and can pull two automobiles with his hair, is now engaged in reducing waist lines. He gave me a string of instances to back up Dr. Jackson’s generalization.

“Not a day passes." he said, “but some of these old birds come in and want to be made over. They run from forty-five to seventy. I tell them it simply can't be done, that they’re just asking for trouble. I advise the older ones, if they feel that way about things, to go to Vienna and see the gland people.

“They don’t seem satisfied with an ordinary course of

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Do Men Die of Vanity?

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exercises and a diet chart suited to their ages and capacity. They aim at fast work. Some of them talk big. One chap in the late forties wanted to go in for boxing, and he asked me if he’d have to stop taking his lady friend out to dinner. Others are a little more ! modest. But, by and large, they’ve all got the same ambition.

“After I’ve eased the surplus flesh off some of my patients, I find they go out and gorge ; themselves with planked steak and mushrooms, pies and sweets. They develop another aldermanic tummy, and come back for another round of treatment. It’s a vicious circle.”

A sporting goods dealer, years in the business, told me there had been a big increase in recent years in the purchase by older men of the paraphernalia of strenuous forms of exercise.

“Of course, it’s not our place to tell cus| tomers what they need or what they should J do, although when we are asked for advice we cheerfully give it. If a centenarian insists on a set of parallel bars or an electric hobby horse, we’ll deliver it.”

An expert, balanced opinion on the issue was given to me by Dr. John A. Oille. heart specialist and member of the medical faculty of Toronto University.

Dr. Oille would not concede that vanity was a factor in cardiac mortality. Indeed, j he was inclined to champion the middle-aged man. If there were any physical competition with youth, he believed it was a matter of circumstantial necessity. There was no general urge, as far as he had observed, to imitate or perpetuate youthful prowess. But he agreed that indulgence in sports and j forms of exercise should be governed by natural adaptability. He cited the case of a man whose heart was in such condition that to walk a block called for effort.

“Yet that same man may ride a horse for miles without feeling any effects,” Dr. Oille said. "It’s because he’s used to it. He has ridden all his life. Otherwise riding might easily be fatal.

“I believe in older people keeping as active as possible,” Dr. Oille w>ent on. “Old ! age creeps quickly upon those w'hose activity j flags. Life is motion, continuous motion, and to drop out of the running means loss of ’virility. It has been proved that the man who retires from active pursuits and adopts ! no hobby or interest, soon passes from the j picture. If a man thinks he should grow old. he will. Hard work and plenty of exercise have never been shown to be a fatal combination. On the contrary, it stimulates.”

Tennis, badminton and squash rackets. Dr. Oille thought, are not suitable pastimes for the middle-aged man. Indulgence in them, however, was not necessarily due to an inflated idea of capacity; rather, it indicated an ignorance of limitation. Golf, he said,

1 was in an entirely different category. Only in sheer overindulgence was it harmful.

“It is true,” he said, “that occasionally men drop off on the links, but they are the dramatic exceptions. In two much discussed Toronto cases. I have knowledge that both victims had seizures shortly before the fatal

attacks, one at home and the other in the clubhouse.”

Dr. Oille made it clear that to play or not to play golf was a question that must be answered separately for each individual. Those who have heart trouble but with welldeveloped compensation, he added, react in the same way as normal persons, and eighteen holes need not be harmful. On the contrary, in many cases, it is of benefit. But he stressed the importance of not taking food too soon afterward. It is better to rest first.

Sleeplessness, restlessness, fatigue in the mornings and lessened appetite after moderate exercise, Dr. Oille said, are indications of poor conditions and warning signs.

Mental Strain Is Fatal

DUT it isn’t sports or exercise that does the damage,” he went on, “as much as mental strain. That is the real source of the mortality figures. These are terrific days for business men, and high blood pressure is rife. And if they are overdoing things, it is not for self-gratification but largely out of duty and necessity.”

From Dr. Cruikshank, chief medical officer of the Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Co., I learned that the proportion of heart disease deaths due to blood pressure was from thirty-five to forty per cent; and Dr. Scadding, of the Canada Life Assurance Co., said that the mortality was most noticeable in the big policy groups. This would indicate that heavy toll is being paid by business executives and men of affairs.

Still, allowing for this lamentable factor, there remains a big spread in the cardiac mortality percentages for a careless vanity and bravado generated by this fast-moving, highly competitive and chaotic age.

Dr. Scadding and Dr. Cruikshank both conceded vanity a place in the line of causation, but both were equally at a loss to assess its potency.

There seems only one other criterion on which to base a survey—longevity. There are notable examples of it through history, and today we have our owm circle of mellow octogenarians carrying on up to the hundred mark.

Their technique of living probably differs in detail, but a comparison reveals common principles—moderation and progressive adjustment in habit, routine and mode of life. Some have been able to play tennis almost up to date, simply because they’ve been on the courts since youth and the motions fit their muscular machinery; but it’s a safe assumption they didn’t break out in middle age and fancy themselves champions. They learned when and how to relax. Most of them wall admit that life has been hard, exacting and active, and each, in his own way, will concede he’s had his share of fun.

It is just this sort of temperate philosophy that enabled Gladstone, at eighty-three, to face a hostile Parliament and an unfriendly queen, and say: “I represent the youth and hope of England.”

There is no record that Gladstone died of vanity.