Running as an Exercise
| Resources Relating to|
We have in running, as I shall proceed to show, one of the most perfect exercises 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 least used—toes, feet, legs, lungs and heart. It exercises least the arms and back most used in ordinary work. 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 feet warm is the great desideratum 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 extremities is sure to be avenged by a congested head, leading by repetition to headache and insomnia. Running secures a cool head and warm feet. Can you imagine a frequent runner troubled with insomnia?
BETTER THAN WALKING.
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 once more.
How much of the exhilaration of our childhood was owing to the fact that we then were ever running? And if adults ran more would they mourn so much for the lost illusions of early years?
The blows which the sole of the foot receives in running are of real value in improving the circulation in the feet. Those who have studied the merits of muscle beating do not need to be told this. These sharp vigorous strokes running up through the great sciatic nerve to the spinal cord and brain are stimulative and tonic in a high degree; and the quickening goes all through the body. 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 capilaries flush with blood, the pores open, and all is vigor and motion. Not a terminal fibre, not a corpuscle of blood but shares in the jubilee and revival. Running is "the universal alterative."
"Do not run; it is too violent an exercise for your health!" How often is that advice given; wisely enough, perhaps, to those with organic heart disease, but foolishly enough to the majority who need precisely this exercise to strengthen their hearts against sloth and luxurious living. For the heart is a muscle, and suitable exercise is the one thing which every muscle must have, or it atrophies. 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 caution; 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 solicitous about its safety. If adults ran as freely and frequently as children—I do not hesitate to say it— heart disease would be rare. But when I 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 sac 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 weaknesses. 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 had taken a quarter of a mile vigorous run daily since childhood, would be wagered upon by an enlightened physician as perfectly free from " female weakness " or malpositions.
AS A REMEDY FOR CONSUMPTION.
Consumption is a dread scourge. Over and over it has been shown that nothing is so healing to sick lungs 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 can excel it, and he is a dull hygienist, indeed, who cannot see how very valuable an agent it might become 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 those chronic diseases in which the patient has 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. Running furnishes oxygen more rapidly and abundantly than any other spontaneous exercise.
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 pleasant and inspiring. It enlivens the mind and dispels melancholy. It exercises every muscle in the body, and chiefly these not commonly much used. It cools the head and draws blood to the lower extremities. It cures rheumatism, corns, cold feet, headaches, insomnia; prevents stiffness, varicose veins, apoplexy, consumption, hernia. 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 certainly cure obesity, for nobody ever yet saw a hard runner who was fat. It requires no apparatus. Taken all in all is the most perfect single exercise known for health, pleasure, and all-round development.
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 be always glad to accompany you. 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 is 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 may be made perfectly safe for those who have taken the right training, 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 jar you much less than straight running. Run up hill zigzag. 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 travellers 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.—Revised from Natural Food.
- J. William Lloyd, “Running as an Exercise,” Journal of Hygiene and Herald of Health 45, no. 5 (May 1895): 126-130.