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THE GENERAL LAWS OF HEALTH.
N entering upon the subject of health and personal beauty,
which are correlated, it is best to consider, first, what is life, which includes them both. The obvious reason for this course is that if health and physical beauty depend on the observance of the laws of life, at least upon those of well-being, without which life would not be worth living, then we can best understand the production and maintenance of these attributes through knowledge of their source.
The most ordinary observer recognizes everywhere the difference between life, both animal and vegetal, and mere stocks and stones. He sees that the crucial test of life is ability or inability to produce after the manner of the kind,-animals, animals; vegetables, vegetables. He knows perfectly well that a block of red sandstone is derived from a stratum of the earth's crust, but is not one of its descendants, while from the highest animal to the lowest they are respectively the progeny of similar beings. He sees this distinction as clearly as does the most profound man of science, with one exception. This exception is that he does not know, what is largely the revelation through the microscope, of the existence of a world which has always been beyond his ken, in which animal and vegetable forms so descend in the scale of life, or, more properly speaking, have not risen in it, that they are sometimes scarcely distinguishable, and sometimes not at all. In a word, barring this exception, the most ignorant of men sees as clearly as the most instructed the essential difference between the organic and the inorganic world.
But that is only a small step, although, as being the first, an indispensable one to comprehension of life in its various
aspects. Until one has grasped and firmly holds the central idea that all life is fundamentally represented by different kinds of cells, which also produce after the manner of their kind, through various transformations, he fails to obtain possession of the clue which leads to perception of many of the consequences which environ living things. The old doctrine of the naturalist was that all life is derived from an egg. The doctrine of the modern naturalist is that all life proceeds from a cell, for an egg is nothing but a complex, or, as he would call it, a differentiated cell. It is the germinal vesicle of the specialized cell of the egg that fundamentally contains life. All else of the egg, in yelk and albumen, is merely concentrated proteid food for the nourishment of its growing inmate, or shell for its protection during the period of incubation.
In both animals and vegetables, from the lowest organisms, consisting of a single cell, to the highest manifestations of life in each, consisting of untold numbers of cells, the unit of life is the cell, capable, in health, through unknown laws, of reproducing its kind, and of changing its manifestations of kind in the formation of varying products. Bones, marrow, cartilage, tissues of all sorts in the human body are nothing but the final temporary resting-stage of cells which have assumed protean forms and functions. Even the blood itself, through which the whole organism is revivified, is to be regarded physiologically as a tissue. A tissue more plastic than the others, its flow is through appointed channels, bearing with it cells consisting of red and white corpuscles, the former of which, as they move along with the current, have the power of renewing oxygen in the other tissues, while the latter, known as leucocytes, or wandering cells, with distinct power of motion, can become saprophytes, or cells acting as the scavengers of the circulation.
From the cradle to the grave there is no absolute restingstage of life, whether in the single cell or in the organism as a
whole. Life is acting and being reacted upon by complex influences from the earth, earthy, and from far beyond, by those derived from sun and moon, upon which the earth itself depends. The body, through its tissues, composed of cells, is ceaselessly wasted and repaired, as the fundamental condition of temporary endurance in the struggle to which every organic being finally succumbs through the law of death. It will therefore be perceived what bearing these remarks have on the laws of life as the condition precedent of health; that is, unless we are so situated. by circumstances of climate and other surrounding conditions, and at the same time obey the laws of life, we cannot, no matter what the strength of the original organism, enjoy health.
We examine our canceled checks, add to them ones still outstanding, and, by comparison of the sum-total with our deposits in bank, carefully cast the balance to find out what still stands to our credit there. But in life, even in robust health, how many carefully reckon up the income and outgo to ascertain what is the balance of endurance left? So far are most reasonable creatures from following such a course, it is generally enough for man or woman to be robust for them to consider their capital unlimited. Pleasure, vanity, and a thousand other frivolous motives induce us to spend lavishly of the greatest of all treasures. The old woman in the fairy tale, with her mumbling jaws and rheum-streaming eyes, was eager to exchange all her riches for the poor girl's blooming cheeks and rounded form, and not less eager was the maiden, in ignorance of the value of her priceless possessions, to seal the bargain on the spot. But, the mutual transfer made, how immediately the maiden saw, from her withered, living grave, that all the riches of the earth cannot compensate for the joy that wells in the heart of youth, health, and beauty.
Youth ought to mean health; more's the pity that it does not always mean it. In the nature of things, we grant, youth
cannot always mean it, for poverty, climate, inheritance from selfishness, which should never have left offspring, are common. Even in human selfishness is an ineradicable cause of the wretched lot of many human beings. But to the readily preventable causes of ill health we may be permitted to refer those arising from unhygienic practices and habits of life; the reckless squandering of vitality, because the capital seems unlimited; the deliberate shutting of the eyes to overdraft on vitality for temporary gratification, whether from vanity, love of gayety, pleasures of the table, artificial stimulation, or sexual excess.
It is astonishing to a physician to observe for what appar ently slight motives persons will sacrifice their health. We knew of the case of one man, who had been noted as a great walker. Signs of unmistakable decadence, brought about by addiction to this exercise in excess, otherwise most laudable, were apparent to the most casual observer. Probably the signs were evident to him also, but he did not impute them to, or he closed his eyes to, their real source. Exercise, in the abstract, being indisputably beneficial, he would continue to exercise inordinately. Nature soon eliminated him by death. Some persons said," How strange; he was such an athlete !" Yet he died, when he died, because he was such an athlete. His particular constitution at the stage which he had reached could not stand the strain upon it of further athleticism.
Rational exercise relates to the constitution of the individual and the surrounding conditions. The strength of a constitution can be determined by an examination by a competent physician. Every intelligent person, however, ought to be able, for himself, to reach conclusions in the main correct as to his own stamina, but as every intelligent person does not reach those conclusions, and, in fact, very rarely does, we must conclude that the intelligence is generally blinded by pride, or vanity, or some other cause. We remember saying, several years ago, with reference
to a college notable then and now for its prominence in athletic sports, that it was extraordinary the Faculty of the college did not make it an imperative rule that none of its students should take part in athletic sports, in which a final contest was contemplated, without first of all being subjected to the most rigid physical examination. At that time students came on the scene, chosen by their fellow-students, simply with regard to muscular development, without the slightest reference to stamina. Young men who could not swim were actually allowed to take part in aquatic contests, occupying the cockle-shell of a contrivance represented by the modern race-boat. All this is changed now in that college, but the change should have been made long previously, or rather a change should not have been requisite, for from the first the rule should have been mandatory, that a physical examination should settle the admission or exclusion of any collegian in the sports which require a course of severe physical training and final supreme effort. Only lately, in a collegiate race, every man in the defeated crew succumbed to exhaustion, and was put to bed, some of them in sorry enough plight. On Lake Saratoga we once saw a man faint in his boat from sheer exhaustion, a man whom we, from his mere appearance, should at a glance have excluded as incapable of severe physical strain, while in another boat, not far off, the whole crew, in mid-lake, was thrown into confusion by a similar scene.
We might go on indefinitely, multiplying instances to prove how little regard is paid by the majority of persons to the question whether a man is by constitution fit to withstand the drain requisite for great muscular development, and the final intense nervous tension of the contest for supremacy. The man lives not so strong that he may not be overtrained and constitutionally impaired, from which it follows that, for a given feat, the selection should be most rigid and exclusive, especially for college students. What is feasible, too, at one time