A Race for Health
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A RACE FOR HEALTH.
INTERESTED from boyhood in health topics, I have always wondered at the indifference — general, medical and hygienic—to the exercise which to me seemed to excel all others in the giving of pleasure and health— I mean running.
So far as I know, no work on hygiene lays any special stress on this exercise, or specially praises it; no "running cure" has ever arisen to rival "water cures," "movement cures," "grape cures," and the rest.
Walking is praised on all hands; it is fashionable, popular, physicians prescribe it; but running is undignified, and the man who should run, as others walk, for health or pleasure, would be regarded as eccentric, if not crazy.
Nevertheless we have in running, as I shall proceed to show, perhaps the most perfect exercise which a man may take without apparatus or assistance from others.
The first great merit of running is that it applies exercise mainly to those parts and organs which the civilized man uses the least—toes, feet, lungs, and heart—and exercises least the arms and back which civilized man uses the most. Therefore it serves the first great purpose of any remedy, it balances the circulation and equalizes the functional energy.
To keep the head cool and the feet warm is the great problem in hygienics, because the head is so near to the heart, the large blood vessels reach it so directly, the tendency of our civilization is so to overwork the brain, that the least deficiency in the circulation of the extremeties is sure to be avenged by a congested head, leading by repetition to headache, insomnia, apoplexy. Is it not manifest how beautifully running secures this cool head and warm feet ? Can you imagine a frequent runner troubled with insomnia? How congested would a brain be after a vigorous run of a mile across country ?
The physician tells his patient to walk, but walking is dull work. There is scant pleasure in the exercise for its own sake. You must always be going somewhere, and if you cannot continually go to some new spot you are bored. The pleasantest walking is a quiet, contemplative stroll, but that is of little value for exercise, and rapid walking is almost always forced. But there is a spirit and verve about even the shortest little dog-trot which the most vigorous walking altogether lacks. Start running and the breath quickens, the pulse leaps, the brain brightens, as the freshly oxygenized, purified blood begins to bound through it, the eye sparkles and the charm of your boyhood has returned to life and nature.
And I would ask right here, how much of the glamour and exhiliration of childhood was owing to the fact that we then were incessantly running? And if adults ran as much would they mourn so much for the lost illusions and rose-tints of infancy?
The blows which the sole of the foot receives in running are of immense value health-wise. Those who have studied the merits of muscle beating do not need to be told this. 'These sharp vigorous strokes running tip through the great sciatic nerve to the spinal cord and brain are stimulative and tonic in the highest degree; and the stimulus, the quickening goes everywhere. Every nerve fibril feels it, the liver is shaken and jarred into action, the stomach grinds merrily away at its welcome grist, the bowels start their weird serpentine peristaltic action, the capillaries flush with blood, the pores open, and all is vigor and motion. Not a terminal fibre, not a corpuscle of the blood but shares in the jubilee and revival. Running is "the universal alternative," as the M. D.'s say of mercury. " Do not run; it is too violent an exercise for your health I" How often is that advice given; wisely enough, perhaps, to those with organic heart disease, but foolishly •enough to the majority who need precisely that exercise to strengthen their hearts against sloth and luxurious living. For the heart is a muscle, and exercise is the one thing which every muscle must have, or it atrophies or degenerates into fat. Very rapid and vigorous walking is good for the heart, but it takes vastly more will power to walk hard than to run •easily and the running will do the heart more good. Of course, men with weak and fatty hearts should take this exercise with prudence and care; a few yards only should be the extent of the run at first, and when this grows easy and pleasant, a few more, and so on, working very gradually until a quarter of a mile becomes a bagatelle. When a quarter of a mile causes no distress that heart may cease to be solicitious about its safety. If adults ran as freely and frequently as children—I do not hesitate to say it—heart disease would be unknown. But, understand, when
I thus praise running for the heart' competitive racing is always excluded. That has ruined many a heart. Health and pleasure is the only prize for which to run.
I lately conversed with an athlete, an ex-champion in the Caledonian games, and he told me of the physical condition of some famous runners he had once examined. "The muscles on their abdomens were so hard that when I tapped them with my finger it was like tapping a board," he said. Observe the flabby sack which retains the bowels of the average sedentary man and think what this difference must mean in absence of abdominal obesity, constipation, prolapsed bowels, piles and hernia, to say nothing of a host of other pelvic and abdominal ills. Fine vigorous abdominal muscles mean healthy viscera and pelvic contents in a normal position. What would this be worth to our women ? A woman who had avoided corsets and heavy skirts, and taken a quarter of a mile vigorous run daily since childhood, would be wagered upon by any enlightened physician as perfectly free from " female weakness" or malpositions.
Consumption is a dread scourge. Over and over it has been shown that nothing is so healing to a sickly lung as pure air taken freely; and in no other way can it be taken so freely and so purely as when running in the open air. As a breathing exercise alone running is priceless, as a preventive of consumption nothing could excell it, and he is a dull hygienist, indeed, who cannot see how very valuable an agent it might become when wisely employed in checking lung disease. Were I to start a "consumption cure," running would be my sheet anchor. Indeed, running would be my chief resource in treating all chronic diseases in which the patient had the use of the lower extremities.
We hear much of the medical use of oxygen nowadays, but there is no better oxygen than that which Mother Nature has provided in the open fields, and if we fill ourselves with this, feasting on it as we run, every drop of our blood will thank us for the treat. Reflect that every half minute all the blood in the body passes through the lungs with a prayer for oxygen, purity, and a "higher life;" and that running furnishes this oxygen more rapidly and abundantly than any other.spontaneous exercise or natural method, and you shall see its tremendous importance When you run you perspire. Thousands upon thousands of little pores begin to drain off impurities, and thus relieve the other excretory organs of overwork. No Turkish bath can excel a run, no sudorific will produce a more thorough sweat. In the corporation of man running means clean streets, good drainage, perfect water-works, and public sanitation. Running is pleasing and inspiring' It enlivens the mind and dispels melancholy. It exercises every muscle in the body, and chiefly those not commonly most used. It cools the head and draws blood to the lower extremeties. It cures rheumatism, corns, cold feet, headaches, insomnia; prevents stiffness, varicose veins, apoplexy, consumption, hernia. It is preventive and curative of all pelvic and abdominal troubles. It stimulates and tones up the nervous system. It shakes and arouses to action all torpid viscera. It insures appetite, digestion, assimilation, excretion. It will surely cure obesity, for nobody ever yet saw a hard runner who was fat. It requires no apparatus. It expands the chest, improves the breathing, purifies the blood, and quickens the circulation as nothing else can do. It insures a warm, magnetic skin, and open, active pores. It is a fountain of youth, beauty, and high spirits ; and taken all in all is the most perfect single exercise known to man for health, pleasure, and all-round development.
But it is not fashionable, and that is a real evil. How easily it could be made so. Let a few people of influence and position take it up, form running clubs, devise a fascinating costume, and the thing is done.
The health-seekers should not wait on fashion. If you feel the need of running have the courage to do it, and you can soon persuade others to join you if you must have company. Children at least will always be glad to accompany you. If possible the dress should be appropriate. The cap should be very light and close, so as not to blow off easily. Much of the time when you run fast you will carry it in your hand, anyway. Let all the clothing be woolen, so that the perspiration quickly passes off and chills are avoided. Have no flapping skirts, coat-tails, or other loose ends. Wear knee-breeches, woolen stockings, and low running shoes, or better still, wear no stockings and no shoes whenever the weather will permit. There is wonderful comfort in a bare foot, as everybody knows. Contact with the earth seems always most magnetic and healthful. And in summer, after a rain, or in the dewy morning, how refreshing a running foot bath through wet grass! Even in winter a short run, barefooted, through the loose snow is perfectly safe, and is a tonic hard to equal, producing a warmth and glow in the feet which will last for hours.
Never race for prizes, or run against time, or compete for anything. Avoid over-strain. Don't make work of your sport. Leap and bound down hill and you will find it jars you much less than straight running. Run up hill zig-zag. Stop whenever you feel any discomfort, get your wind and then run again. By constant practice a man could run as long as he could walk. In some places in the Orient outrunners and footmen accompany carriages and keep up with the horses. In the bardic chronicles of Ireland we read of the horse-boys running all day by the side of the tourist, ready to be at
the bridle whenever the master halted. And wonderful tales travelers tell us to-day of runners in Mexico, Japan, Africa. But such running, if wonderful, is not perhaps desirable, and is hardly to be attained without too much expense to other faculties. The runs I recommend are through the dewy meadows of morning, over the hills of afternoon, or through the aisles of forest temples—runs with an easy breath, a light foot, and a gay heart.
You may not, like Selkirk, become able to run down wild goats, but you can at least run down your avoirdupois, run up your spirits, and run out, if not outrun, your doctor.
—-J. Wm. Lloyd, in Natural Food.
- J. William Lloyd, “A Race for Health,” Health 8, no. 5 (November 1899): 170-173.