It is well-known fact that the majority of men today are relatively weak, whereas the struggle for existence demands now more than at any previous epoch that we should all be strong!
The reader may think that physical strength is not a necessity, but I will try to prove to him that man cannot derive real enjoyment from life unless he possesses a powerful and healthy constitution. A famous physician expressed himself as follows:
“If I think of my experiences during a thirty years’ practice, I cannot recall many cases where a patient became ill through to great an exertion on his physical system, whereas I remember many hundreds who have contracted serious illness through mental strain and brain fag, and their complete recovery invariably was a slow and difficult process.”
I have come to the distinct conclusion, that the physical constitution of the human frame never was intended merely for study, but rather for manual and bodily exercise. I have found that those who have lived an active outdoor life have retained and enjoyed a brightness born of health far longer than others. Such people always enjoyed their meals, seldom suffered from indigestion, headaches, or nervous exhaustion. Indigestion is the direct result of the ineffective performance by the digestive organs of their functions, brought on either, on the one hand, by over-eating or consuming unsuitable food and noxious drugs, or, on the other hand, by physical inactivity. What a contrast to those people who toil in rooms or do mental work only, they often suffer from heat in the head, cold feet, sluggish digestion, or weak and inactive bowels. Few among them are those who do not suffer from some form of nervous complaint. The feeling of comfort and happiness is almost unknown to them.
“We know that every organ, when actively performing its duties, demands a rich supply of blood; its veins become enlarged, and, considering the fact that much more blood flows through a muscle while it is in activity than while it is at rest, it is evident that the same rule holds good as regards the brain. If more blood flows to the brain than under normal conditions, the other parts of the body are more or less depleted of it, feet and arms become cold, and the feeling is, to say the least, uncomfortable. I have the firm conviction that in time everyone will recognize the necessity of daily bodily exercises in one form or another, as an ordinary counterpart to one’s daily mental exertions.”
Human life is not unlike a commercial business establishment. There is a continual exchange of matter, and just as the commercial establishment suffers and decays just when the turnover diminishes, or the stock of goods accumulates without being disposed of, so a continuous exchange of matter is needful for our body, if a paralysis in life’s activity – in another word – is to be averted or a complete stoppage – that is death – prevented. Just as a commercial business flourishes the more this interchange of goods takes place, so a man benefits in health and comfort and can get out of himself better service in any useful direction, if the exchange of matter in his body takes place regularly and frequently.
In life, however, cause and effect continually change their role. As the man of commerce must not be idle, but must be active from early morn till night, so we can only keep our wonderful organism in constant regularity by repeated impulse to, and continued exertion in, its respective functions. This is the only way to prevent exhaustion of the organs and to contribute properly to their strengthening, improvement, and preservation. You will ask how far we can attain this, and how it is possible to effect such a deep influence on a whole life’s activity. I would reply to the this in the following manner:
Every movement is produced by the muscles. These are skeins of flesh tissues, which have the vital faculty of contraction and extension. They are attached by sinews to the foundation of bone, and by contraction they change in position or alter in shape. The impulse to this movement is carried by the nerves, which have their centre in the brain. The nerves are not unlike the metal wires of a battery, which carry the electricity whither it is needed, and in like manner the brain sends the impulse by means of the nerves to whatever muscles it wills. If, therefore, the muscles are frequently set in motion by our will, they are first of all strengthened in their power of contraction and of executing different movements; and are thus brought to their full development and perfection.
Those muscles which are left inactive to a greater or lesser extent lose their power of contraction and naturally deteriorate. This retrogression appears in the shape of muscular weakness and exhaustion. We find these effects mostly among people of the so-called upper classes. They are tired by the least exertion, are afraid of the slightest draught, and are often martyrs to weak nerves, rheumatism, and catarrh. Ladies who take no regular physical exercise, or who are not engaged in any occupation entailing such, are invariably startled and frightened by the least expected noise, such as the sudden opening of a door. They become “nervous” and often hysterically affected by unlooked-for occurrences of even the most paltry nature. Now all these ills and disorders are unknown to those who take regular physical exercise, for by it their nervous system obtains strength and firmness and that endurance which is the essence of a good constitution.
Through the pressure of blood and the accumulation of nerve fluid in the brain, the nervous man is filled with continual anxiety for his physical well being. His over-strung nerves cause him to imagine all kinds of ailments. One thought after another flits across his mind; at one time he believes himself to be strong, at another weak, now he fancies himself well, now ill. He is tormented by a never-ending strife between hope of life and fear of death. Hope after hope slips successively from his grasp, and finally he sinks into a more or less dangerous mental illness, the result of which may easily lead him to seek release in self-destruction.
The most effectual means of preventing all the disadvantages of evil consequences of a neglected exercise of body and muscles is methodical physical training.
Just as the man of sedentary habits and weak body possesses a correspondingly sluggish mind and lack of energy, so he who assiduously pursues physical development gains not only that desired government of his organs, but in marked degree obtains a thorough mastery of his will and, consequently, an easy and contented mind.
The frequent employment of one’s will power matters all organs of movement and trains them to perform feats which otherwise would have been difficult, painful, and even impossible. The man becomes independent and self-reliant; he will never be a coward, and, when real danger threatens, he is the one looked up to by others. The knowledge of one’s strength entails a real mastery over oneself; it breeds energy and courage, helps one over the most difficult tasks of life, and procures contentment and true enjoyment of living. Who would still lag behind in inactivity and weakness?
By: George Hackenschmidt, 1908, The Way to Live in Health and Physical Fitness