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Keeping Fit All the Way / How to Obtain and Maintain Health, Strength and Efficiency By Walter Camp Characters: 13806

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

When Dr. D.A. Sargent, of Harvard University, makes the charge that, "More than one-half of the male population between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years are unable to meet the health requirements of military service, and that, of the largest and strongest of our country folk pouring into our cities, barely one of their descendants ever attains to the third generation," it becomes a pretty serious charge. We are already familiar with the forgetfulness of physical condition by men over forty, but we had prided ourselves considerably over the belief that the majority of our youth would compare favorably with those of other countries. When one comes to sift the statement, he should remember that many disabilities for which the military examiners might reject a man are not so serious, after all, and that nothing has been said about the splendid physique of the large number of men who are accepted.

The writer visited recently many of the training-camps, both military and naval; and when he came away he was quite prepared to agree with those who praise the flower of the flock as being superior to that they have seen on the other side. The point is that Doctor Sargent is absolutely right in asserting that we ought not to have had so many rejections. It is time for us to realize that a man who is out of balance physically should be looked after. Moreover, men should not become out of balance. The truth of the matter is that our mechanical devices have gone so far toward taking the place of manual labor that we only have one line of physical development-our athletic sports. If, therefore, these are not made broad enough and thorough enough and accessible enough, we are likely to have just what is happening now-namely, a slump when it comes to measuring up to the standard instituted by the military authorities.

Our young men do flock to the cities and city life means crowded conditions, lack of outdoor exercises, vitiated atmosphere, and a minimum of sunshine and of the other elements that go to perfecting and keeping up a robust and enduring physique.


Now exercise is the most important factor toward counteracting these unnatural conditions. Air, bathing, and diet aid, but we must have exercise in order to get the energetic contraction of the larger muscles of the body which goes so far toward regulating the physical tone. We must have what are called compensatory exercises, beginning as far down as the grammar-schools and continuing right through the universities and professional schools into general business and civic life. This war has opened our eyes; it should be a warning, and it ought to result in a far broader comprehension of what physical condition and physical education really mean. It is in this way only that we can meet the demands of modern civilization without an accompanying deterioration of the physical condition of our people. No one has set a finer example in this respect than President Wilson himself, who, realizing the enormous strain that was coming upon him, has systematically and conscientiously prepared for it. Early every morning, long before most Washingtonians are so much as turning over for their pre-getting-up nap, the President is out and off around the golf-course. Also Doctor Grayson has prepared a system of exercises for his use when outdoor work is impossible.


In the summer of 1917 several members of the Cabinet formed themselves into a club, with other prominent officials in Washington, and kept themselves fit throughout the season by consistent morning exercise, four days a week. So far so good, only we should have realized more than a year ago the strain that was coming upon our men and taken measures to meet it, as Germany did. Dr. William C. Woodward, who is chairman of the District Police Board in Washington, did not overstate the matter when he said that the draft officers were weary, that the strain had begun to threaten their efficiency, and that they were thoroughly undermining their bodies in the effort to accomplish their tremendous task. Every community has seen the same thing happen, and several of them can agree with Doctor Woodward that this has come close to being a really serious business calamity throughout the country. All these men should have been prepared by thirty or sixty days of physical training for this extra strain.

Again, the Equitable Life Assurance Society, in its September Bulletin, calls attention to the fact that, out of approximately 1,300,000 men who volunteered for the army and navy, only 448,859 were acceptable. Furthermore, the Equitable notes that these physical impairments not only will not correct themselves, but that they will get worse, and that a large percentage of our vast horde of physically sub-standard, low-priced men will drift into sickness and meet premature death because their power to resist disease is rapidly declining. The Equitable calls, on this convincing evidence, for a thorough and permanent system of health education in our schools, saying: "With all of our wealth and intelligence and scientific knowledge in the field of health conservation, we are allowing a large proportion of our children to pass out of the schools into adult life physically below par." The Equitable concludes with the remark: "Some day we will give all American school children thorough physical training and health education. Why not commence now?"


Dr. S. Weir Mitchell says:

All classes of men who use the brain severely, and who have also-and this is important-seasons of excessive anxiety or grave responsibility, are subject to the same form of disease; and this is why, I presume, that I, as well as others who are accustomed to encounter nervous disorders, have met with numerous instances of nervous exhaustion among merchants and manufacturers.

My note-books seem to show that manufacturers and certain classes of railway officials are the most liable to suffer from neural exhaustion. Next to these come merchants in general, brokers, etc.; then, less frequently, clergymen; still less often, lawyers; and, more rarely, doctors; while distressing cases are apt to occur among the overschooled young of both sexes.

Here is a day's list:

Charles Page Bryan, former ambassador to Japan, died in Washington of heart failure at the age of sixty-one.

Judge Arthur E. Burr, Judge of Probate for Suffolk County, dropped dead in the court-house at the age of forty-eight.

Hiram Merrick Kirk, Municipal Court Justice, New York, died in the forty-seventh year of his age.

Lieut. William T. Gleason dropped dead in the railroad station, Salt Lake City, as he stepped from a railroad train, at the age of forty.

Indeed, it is not only the men of military age who drop off under this strain, but the very vi

tal strong men behind the lines.


It is an extraordinary thing that the people in this country, many of them coming from the most vigorous ancestry, should be willing to compress all their athletic enthusiasm into a very small period of their school and college life, and then to forget to take any exercise (except vicariously) until warned, sometime after forty, that Nature will exact a price for such folly. It is certainly a puzzle to understand how men can willingly slip into fatness and flabbiness or nervous indigestion, forget entirely what a pleasure physical vigor is, fold their hands contentedly, with the statement that they haven't time for physical culture, and so, gradually, by way of the motor-car and the dinner-table, slide into physical decadence and a morbid condition of mind and body. And yet three or four hours a week, less than an hour a day, with the assistance of fresh air and water, and within a sixty-or ninety-day period, will start these people on the road to recovered health and vigor. All that is necessary is to get the proper action of the lungs, of the heart, and of the skin, and, finally, of the digestion; then the results will follow fast.


The first time a good conservative New England business or professional man, who has worked hard all his life and who has attained a commanding position in the community, determines to break away and take a vacation in the winter-a thing he has heard about and sometimes wondered how other people could manage to do it-he meets with the surprise of his life. After boarding a train and traveling for twenty-four hours toward the South and sunshine, he begins to lose a little the feeling that he is playing "hookey" and is liable to be dragged home and birched. But he does wonder a little whether he won't have hard work in finding somebody to play with him. When, however, he disembarks from his train at his destination-we will say Pinehurst-he has already begun to realize, through noting the other bags of golf-clubs on the train, that possibly he will be able to get some partners. When he arrives at the hotel, although it is early breakfast-time, he is astounded at the number of people there, and he is inclined to think that he has happened upon an unusual week or that this is the one place in the South where golfers congregate.

By the time he has spent a day or two there and has found that, in spite of the three courses open, it is wise to post his time the day before or he is likely to kick his heels around the first tee for a couple of hours before he can get away, and when he looks over the crowded dining-room at night-well, he comes to the conclusion that most of the school have deserted and are playing truant, too!


A generation ago the people who preached the good gospel of fresh air were still viewed askance, although the new doctrine had begun to make some impression. The early settlers in this country lived an outdoor life perforce, and undoubtedly found all the excitement of a football game in fighting the Indians; consequently, they attained proper physical development. The descendants of these settlers still retained a good deal of the outdoor habit, but in the third generation the actual drift city-ward began. This meant the absence of incentives to outdoor exercise, so far as life and the pursuit of happiness were concerned. Hence, it became necessary to preach the gospel of fresh air.

"Oh, the joy with which the air is rife," sang Adams Lindsay Gordon, one of the early preachers of this doctrine, and to-day thousands and tens of thousands are appreciating the truth of the saying. Not alone the boy at school or college with his football, baseball, and rowing, but the middle-aged man with his golf and tennis, and the old man tramping through the woods with the rod and gun, as he used to do thirty years ago, and as he will do to the end-all these know what fresh air means. Sunshine, through the medium of golf, has come to the life of thousands of middle-aged wrecks formerly tied to an office chair. No one can estimate the number of lives, growing aged by confinement in close rooms, by lack of exercise, and by the want of cheerful interest in something beside the amassing of dollars and cents, that have been saved and rendered happy through the introduction of this grand sport whose courses now dot the country from Maine to California, from the top of Michigan to the end of Florida.

Twenty years ago in this country a man who came to his office in a golf suit would have been regarded as demented, to say the least. To-day the head of the house in many a large business refuses to permit anything to interfere with his Saturday on the links. And this means that he and all the officers in the departments under him, instead of viewing with concern the interest of the men in outdoor sports-their devotion to baseball and football, to tennis, golf, and track athletics-are glad and willing that the great outdoors should have a real place in their lives. It is good business policy.

Something must make up to the later generations for the loss of the open air and outdoor work which the exigencies of the olden times demanded of our ancestors, and that something has come in the shape of physical exercise. But golf and long vacations are for the comparatively rich. They are makeshifts rendered possible only by circumstances.


If a man determined, because his horse or his dog showed exceptional intelligence, that he would endeavor to develop that intelligence by setting the animal at mental tasks, and so gave it only the exercise that would come from moving about the room, and no fresh air or sunshine, no road-work or hunting-well, we are all quite familiar with what the result would be.

If a parent had a child who showed unusual mental precocity and thereupon forced the brain of that child, with no outdoors, no fresh air, no sunshine, and even to late hours, we all recognize that such action would be criminal. Yet probably 50 per cent, of our best executives, in their efforts to aid in the present emergency, are doing just what we are ready to condemn in the hypothetical cases given above. Some of these men, while still able to whip up their will into going on from day to day with the same exhausting program, finally conclude that unless they take a vacation they are going to break down. The doctor tells them so and they know it. Whereupon they rush off for a week or ten days; some of them enter upon an orgy of exercise, others relax into a somnolent state of lying around and thanking their stars that they can rest at last. They certainly do feel better and do improve, but they come back to work merely to begin the same old vicious round. They have had their lesson, but they have not learned it.

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