By Bernarr Macfadden (Father of Physical Culture), 1922
Civilized man is an indoor animal. We no longer live in tree-tops nor even in caves, but in houses, and a great many of us spend the larger part of every year in closed, ill-ventilated, overheated rooms. From a health viewpoint, the cave-dweller would no doubt have the advantage over the average American who follows a sedentary occupation. The steam-heated apartments of our great cities are thoroughly aired only on rare intervals, and consequently those who reside therein often dry up in mind, soul and body along with the furniture.
In order to live in every sense of the word we must become a part of the great outdoors. Outdoor life adds to one’s vitality and vigor. It increases one’s energies and enthusiasms. You cannot be ambitious or vivacious, you cannot really amount to anything in life, if you are confined to an overheated flat.
If there is any hobby that is worth while it is one that takes us out-of-doors. What the attractive features of your hobby may be, is not of very great importance provided this object is secured. You must be lured away from your stuffy living rooms and encouraged to breathe the fresh, pure air of the open.
There are out-of-door exercises of all sorts which are of great value, but even a seat in a motor car wherein your exercise is confined principally to increased respiration through the pleasure that comes with fast riding, is at least of some value. The health of the nation, as a whole, has been greatly improved by the automobile through its encouragement of the outdoor life. But if you can join with your outdoor life some active exercise which will use all the muscles of the body the benefits will be much greater.
There are various open-air pastimes that can be made unusually vigorous, and so can be highly recommended if one is possessed of ordinary strength. Football is perhaps one of the most strenuous of outdoor games, and is to be especially advised where one has the vitality and endurance which fits him for an exercise of this character. Golf is an example of a milder outdoor pastime that is particularly suited to middle-aged and elderly persons, although young men and women are benefited by it, too. It affords excellent exercise in walking, and the swinging of the golf clubs affords more exercise for the chest, arms and back than is usually supposed. One who is not accustomed to the game will usually find the muscles of the arms, shoulders and chest sore or at least stiff from the unusual exercise when first attempting to play this game.
Tennis furnishes a vigorous exercise that is especially commendable for adding to one’s vitality. It is a good endurance builder. Tennis can be made as fast and energetic, or as leisurely and moderate as one wishes, depending entirely upon the skill, strength and ability of the player. Tennis is a safe and sane pastime that is growing in popularity, and can be universally recommended for both sexes and all ages.
Rowing, running, cross-country work, track athletics, lacrosse, handball, hockey and polo are all splendid and vigorous games, well-calculated to develop the best type of physical stamina. For those possessing the requisite strength they can all be highly recommended, though as a rule it is best not to specialize in any one of them but to secure as much variety as possible. Specializing in athletics may win championships and may stimulate interest in sports, but for the average man or woman specialization is not desirable. Even if you are only a “dub” instead of a champion in each of these games, it is better to play them all, since you will thereby secure a well-rounded physical development, and also obtain the maximum of “fun.”
For those who are less rugged but who on that very account are all the more in need of open-air exercise there is a great variety of other less strenuous pastimes. Cycling and horseback riding can be particularly recommended as enjoyable forms of outing in combination with a certain amount of exercise. Skating is an ideal pastime for the colder weather as it requires no special strength and adds to the vigor of the heart, lungs and other vital organs; besides this, the brisk, cold air of the winter months is a tonic of great value. Snowshoeing, yachting, rope-skipping, canoeing, archery, croquet, coasting and various similar pastimes are all to be commended.
Swimming is of great value, both as a means of physical development and as a health builder, but if your vitality is limited do not stay in the water too long. Swimming may be made mild or very strenuous. If you swim with the skill of an expert, only a very moderate exertion is required, though some of the new racing strokes tax the strength and endurance of the strongest athlete. Swimming combines the pleasures of bathing and exercise, and under proper conditions is invaluable. Those who are “fleshy” can stay in the water a long time, but if you are “thin” take care lest you lose weight by too much bathing. The slender man or woman may take a daily swim for its tonic effect. It may even cause one to gain in weight if the exercise is not prolonged, but persons of this type usually lose weight in the course of a season of too much bathing.
There is one point of special importance in connection with our exercise and that is to cultivate the play spirit. You will never fully enjoy your sports and you will never obtain all possible benefit from them until you lose your dignity and learn how to play. Try to be glad that you are alive and able to play these games. One great drawback to American sports is the tendency to take them too seriously. There is too much of strained effort involved in the desire to win the game at any price. Keep yourself in a state of mind where you “see the fun.” Though “playing to win” may be commended, the real purpose of any game is the fun and benefit that is secured therefrom whether you win or lose. There have been cases when members of a boat crew or a football team have actually cried over a lost game. Imagine the nerve strain involved in taking athletics so seriously! It is splendid to win, but it should also be pleasurable to lose to a worthy antagonist. Do not take your games too seriously, but make them a laughing matter. Only by assuming this attitude can you get the greatest possible benefits that can be derived from games.
The nature of your exercise does not matter so long as there is that increased activity of the heart, lungs and other organs which tends to improve the circulation throughout the entire body. The exercise must insure deep breathing, and if a certain amount of perspiration is induced it will be advantageous. First of all get out-of-doors; find some exercise that appeals, some alluring attraction which will take you away from the confinement of your home. Live as much as you can in the open. If possible, try sleeping out-of-doors. Men and women of today may be aptly compared to sensitive plants. We are the devitalized product of the universal custom of coddling, and the less we live within four walls, and the more we breathe the free outdoor air, the stronger, healthier and more capable we become.
There is one outdoor exercise that we can all take without expense, and it is by far the best when everything is considered. At least this statement is true so far as the building of vitality and endurance is concerned. I refer to walking. This is an exercise that can be made decidedly vigorous if desired. And no matter what health-building regimen you may follow, a certain amount of walking is essential to maintaining the highest degree of physical vigor.
Walking is a tonic of very great value to every one of the organic functions. It stimulates the activities of the purifying organs to an unusual degree. It is a remedy of great efficacy in overcoming constipation. It can be highly recommended for strengthening the heart, for stimulating the liver and kidneys, and it will tone up the physical organism throughout. Furthermore, this exercise is of unusual value as a mental stimulant. It clears the “cobwebs” from the brain. If you are bothered with vexing problems put them aside until you can take a long walk. With the improved quality of the blood and the more active circulation of this functional tonic, your mental efficiency will be greatly increased. You will think more quickly; your conclusions will be clearer, more definite and more dependable. I know a successful novelist who depends very largely upon his long walks for working out the themes and plots of his stories. I have frequently followed the same plan in connection with my own work. I know of other writers who depend upon this method of gaining inspiration.
I have been told that chopping wood is mentally stimulating, and also that horseback riding and cycling are sometimes helpful in this direction, but walking is without doubt the most effective mental stimulant to be found out-of-doors. It accelerates the circulation, and seems to arouse the vital forces of the body, but does not require such an expenditure of energy as to prevent the brain from being exceptionally active.
Now to secure the real benefits that come from walking there should be no laziness about it. Do not walk as though you were on a fashion parade. The Sunday afternoon stroll on the city streets may be very alluring, but you cannot under such circumstances secure the real benefits that may be found in walking. If possible go out on the country roads or walk across the fields. Put a certain amount of energy into your every step. Walk briskly and as though you enjoyed it, and you will discover that you do enjoy it. Even if your first few steps require an unusual effort on your part, “step lively” just the same, and you will shortly find that you feel lively, too. A walk of this sort into which you put real energy in every step is a tonic of amazing value. It will stir up your entire organism. It will insure an active functioning, and make you feel and be thoroughly alive. If you have the added advantage that comes from pure country air you are to be envied. But even without these superior advantages, even if your route is confined to city streets, some benefit will still result from taking the walk tonic.
While walking give special attention to my suggestions concerning breathing. Breathe deeply and fully at frequent intervals. Expand the body in the abdominal region. If you like, you can carry your breathing still farther and allow this expansion to extend to the chest walls, though as a rule, this is not necessary. No doubt one of the most valuable suggestions for strength and vitality building while walking is to take at frequent periods several movements which are referred to in the chapter on Thyroid Stimulation, namely, the chin-in-downward- and-backward motion while holding a full breath with abdomen fully expanded. In fact this idea, if carried out until the muscles of the back of the neck are fatigued at the completion of the walk, will energize you mentally and physically.
A suggestion that I have often offered in various articles upon this subject is to practice what I may term harmonious or rhythmic breathing, which I regard as of exceptional value. By this I mean taking the same amount of time to draw in the breath as you do to exhale it, keeping time with a certain number of steps. For instance, while taking eight steps, draw in a breath and exhale during the next eight steps. You may make this six, eight, ten or twelve steps if you like. If you have some piece of music in mind that carries with it a rhythm that accommodates itself to your steps while walking, and if each inhalation and exhalation takes up an even number of steps, you will find that you are swinging along with a sense of harmony and pleasure that will make distances pass away and cause you to be unconscious of the length of your walk. This rhythmic or harmonious breathing is an excellent means of cultivating the deep-breathing habit.
Another exercise is of material value in connection with the practice of deep breathing while walking, serving especially to stimulate the digestive and other internal organs. This consists in holding a fairly full breath for a series of four, six or eight steps, and at the same time expanding the body still further in the region of the stomach. This is accomplished largely through the action of the diaphragm and the muscles across the front of the body in the region of the stomach. This should be executed with a sort of pumping motion, that is to say by a series of alternate contractions and relaxations rapidly following each other. Expand the region of the stomach by this muscular effort for an instant, relax, repeat, and continue in that way several times during the course of the six or eight steps during which you hold the breath. Then exhale freely and after one or two breaths repeat. This has the effect of massaging, as it were, the internal organs, and is of material value in bringing about improved functioning, as well as strengthening these parts.
If you can find an opportunity to go camping there is no better way in which to spend a vacation. Everyone knows that a term of two or three weeks in the woods or by the side of a lake, living out-of-doors to some extent after the manner of primitive man, and getting a certain amount of pleasurable exercise with the continuous fresh air, will work wonders.
But if camping for a short period is beneficial, then a part of each day in the open air during the summer is well worth while; therefore try to “camp out” for two or three hours each evening. If you are through work at five o’clock, for instance, enjoy a picnic dinner in the open, instead of a regular supper in the dining-room of your home. It is daylight until almost eight o’clock during most of the summer, and this plan would yield two or three hours of open-air life. Or take advantage of part of this time, before supper, to go rowing, or swimming, to play some game, such as tennis, or to do anything else that will occupy you pleasantly for an hour or two in the open air. At least you can always take a good walk.
If you go to bed at a reasonable hour you can probably rise early enough to permit a walk of one or two hours, or some other open-air activity, before going to work. If your work is in an office where you will be confined all day this advice is especially important. When your office hours begin at eight or nine o’clock in the morning you should imbibe as much fresh air as possible before work, if only by walking part or all the way to your place of business. Be in the open air as much as you can. Many people think they are too busy for this. They make the plea of lack of time, but when illness appears they have plenty of time to stay in bed. The open-air man or woman “side-steps” sickness. Since superabundant vitality can be obtained through open-air life, spend as much time as you can out-of-doors. Cultivate the outdoor habit. It will increase your efficiency so that you will do better work in less time.