This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
Walking, running, leaping, hopping, dancing, rowing boats, etc., are physiologically adapted to strengthen the whole muscular system. Even boxing and fencing are to be advised when properly regulated. Wrestling is a dangerous method of developing muscular power. Ten-pins, billiards, etc., are excellent exercises, but useful employment is better. Singing, declaiming, reading, etc., are admirable methods of cultivating the vocal powers, and increasing the capacity of the respiratory apparatus. Riding on horseback, hunting, fishing, etc., are all more or less beneficial in the prevention of disease and promoting good health. Riding in easy carriages, sailing in boats, swinging, and other passive exercises, are all to be duly considered as remedial expedients for invalids.
Amid the many vicissitudes of fortune and the moral crosses to which female life is doomed, I recommend healthful exercise of the body, in order that the material fabric may be fortified against the thousand causes of disease continually assailing the sex.
Woman comes earlier to maturity by several years than man. The tree of life blossoms and bears fruit sooner in the one sex than in the other. It also sooner withers and sheds its leaves, -- but does not sooner die. Female life at any period is fully as good, -- perhaps a little better in respect to probable duration, -- than that of the male. It is during the period of from fourteen to twenty-one years that the seeds of female diseases are chiefly sown -- or, at least, that the soil is specially prepared for their reception and growth. The predisposition to infirmities and disorders of various kinds is affected by acts of omission and commission. In the first class need I mention the deficiency of healthy exercise of the body in the open air, and of intellectual exercise in judicious studies. The hoop and the skip-rope, even in city homes, might usefully supersede the piano, the harp, and guitar, for one hour in the day, at least. In schools and seminaries there is no excuse -- and, indeed, in many of them this salutary point of hygiene is well attended to. In others, however, gymnastic exercises have been hastily thrown aside -- partly because some enthusiasts have carried them to excess -- partly because they were supposed to be inimical to the effeminacy of shape and features so much prized by parents and progeny, -- but chiefly, I suspect, from that languor and disinclination to exertion which characterize the higher and even the middle classes of female youth. This deficiency of exercise in the open air may be considered the parent of one-half of female disorders. The pallid complexions, the languid movements, the torpid secretions, the flaccid muscles and disordered functions (including glandular swellings), and consumption itself, attest the truth of this assertion.
The exercises of small children consist in giving them the largest liberty and plenty of room. The cradle is a most pernicious method of exercising a child to sleep, and should be discarded from every family. For the ordinary or wakeful exercises of a child, the modern "baby jumper" will be found a preferable contrivance. Among the poorer classes, the children, for want of room to stir in, are apt to become sickly, puny, peevish, and often idiotic.
The best time for exercise is in the morning, an hour or so before breakfast, when the stomach is partially empty. If it should happen to be entirely empty, or nearly so, it should be fortified with a cracker or two, or some other light aliment. Vigorous evening exercises may also be employed by persons of sedentary habits with great advantage. "Night work," when mental or physical, is at once a violation of the natural order of things.
Thus, if you would preserve your health, you must take exercise, but not exercise exceeding your strength. Remember, the body must be induced to throw off its waste by action before it can be nourished. Nevertheless, it should also be remembered, that exercises of extreme severity are never required in ordinary cases of health, while in disease it must be incompatible with the strength and circumstances which surround the patient. With plentiful bodily exercise you can scarcely be ill, -- without bodily exertion you cannot possibly be well. By "well," I mean the enjoyment of as much strength as may be consistent with your natural physique.
Exercise should be taken to the extent of quickened breathing and sensible perspiration. If in health, walk, when possible, at least from one to two miles every morning before breakfast. The invalid should go out into the open air, and ramble to the degree of strength he may possess, avoiding fatigue.
Exercise gives health, vigor, and cheerfulness, sound sleep and a keen appetite. Indeed, the effects of sedentary throughtfulness are diseases that embitter and shorten life -- interrupt rest -- give tasteless meals, perpetual languor, and ceaseless anxiety.
Cheerful exercise, when at all practicable to be taken, whether active or passive, is absolutely an indispensable means to prevent or guard against disease, and to assist in the recuperative action of medicine when the body has become diseased.