This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
In latitudes of an inhospitable climate an opportunity for indoor exercise has indisputable advantages, but involves the risk of defective ventilation, and the ideal of a rainday refuge for votaries of the movement-cure is the drill-shed of an Austrian household regiment: A structure 300 feet long by 60 broad, and about 25 feet between the floor and the ceiling of the main hall, yet equipped with hot-air pipes sufficient to counteract the frosts of the coldest winter day.
A time may come when every country town of the civilized North-lands will have a public gymnasium of that sort, and in the meanwhile in door-workers must contrive to defy the main obstacle to effective ventilation, viz., the superstitious dread of cold draughts.
The supposed connection of catarrhs ("colds") with currents of cold air is strikingly refuted by the practical argument of an open smithy. Blacksmithas well as the operatives of Northern rolling-millsoften work all day long in close proximity to a blazing fire, while a wide-open door admits the blizzards of the midwinter season; yes their health and longevity is far above the average and might rank with that of gardeners, if they were not obliged to inhale coal-fumes, as well as ice-winds. Their special work, it is true, tends to counteract the effects of the one-sided system of exercise that explains the shortcomings of nine out of ten health-seekers. "Our patients get an immense deal of encouragement to develop the muscles of their motive organs," writes the visitor of a climatic sanitarium;" there are mountain-excursions and forest-excursions, five times a week, and every evening troops of volunteers clamber up a prospect rock to see the sunset and get an appetite for supper. Besides, there is a Kneipp-cure department, and the trots through the wet meadow often take the form of a foot-race. But what are our arms doing all that while? Lifting a half-ounce spoon from plate to mouth or reaching up to take a hat from the rack."
It would be no exaggeration to say that the legs of the average city dweller get a thousand times as much exercise as his arms.
Amateur-blacksmithing, on the Elihu Burritt plan, remedies that disproportion, and the "Learned Blacksmith" went so far as to recommend it as a mental and moral remedy. He learned to speak four different languages and had a book acquaintance with half a dozen more, including Hebrew and Greek. Memorizing a hundred words an hour was about the average of his linguistic tasks, up to his fiftieth year, and he was firmly persuaded that sledge-hammer matinee helped to counterbalance the deadweight of such burdens. And, moreover, he considered a visit to his smithy a ready expedient in ethical emergencies. If anything happened to rouse his indignation he would skip downstair and hammer away like Thor and Vulcan for a minute or two, then draw a deep breath and feel that the rising choler had been successfully "worked off." "What else would you propose?" he inquires; "sit still and swallow your wrath, to imitate the saints? Well, try it, and see if the suppressed gall doesn't surge back a dozen times before night, making you as cross as an old spinster with no moral outlet but her scandalous tongue."
Sledge-hammering also helps to invigorate the lungs and shake the diaphragm in a manner pretty sure to dislodge the lurking imps of dyspepsia. Violent movement-cures may not be advisable in the far-gone stages of debilitating disorders, but, on the whole, will do for a crapulent organism what a brisk gale does for the forests of a tropical coast-swamp that may vegetate in a calm, but cannot get rid of their dead leaves and mouldering branches. Microbes have a predilection for a quiet boarding-house and do not often frequent a blacksmith's body.
Woodchopping answers the same purpose, and in a climate like that of our lake-shore States it would be worth while to weather-tighten and warm a shed, in order to try Mr. Gladstone's favorite prescription without the risk of frozen toes. The "Sage of Hawarclen" worked in the open air, but the winter-climate of Southern Britain, under the parallel of Montreal, is in reality milder than that of Maryland. Wood-choppers indulging the luxury of a weather-proof buildingheated, perhaps, with a chip-fire flickering in an open fireplace, can now and then give their lungs the benefit of a draught of purer oxygen by stepping out in the storm and fetching additional logs from the wood-pile.
Asthma-patients, with a little experience in the caprices of their mysterious disorder, will not be apt to protract that special test of strength beyond the first premonitions of fatigue. Burden-carrying is always liable to bring on a spasmodic fit of an affection that cannot be provoked by other forms of exercise, even in preposterous overdoses. A bicyclist may work his pedals till his spine is twisted by cramps and his fingers threaten to relax their grip; his lungs may heave and gasp without betraying any other symptoms of distress, a pedestrian may trudge along till his knee-joints stagger and sleep tries to enforce its rights in the middle of the track, but no trace of asthma, while a shouldered weight of perhaps less than a hundred pounds suddenly "cuts the breath," as if the valves of the respiratory apparatus had closed with a snap. "Dyspnoea," or air-famine, pathologists call a paroxysm of that sort, and the difficulty in drawing a full breath may yield to a cold sponge-bath or defy all remedies and keep the patient in misery for weeks together.
Light indoor work: amateur carpentering, house-cleaning, adjusting stove-pipes or library shelves, is, on the other hand, the most efficient of all asthma-cures, and far more permanent in its effects than the chemical specifics (stramonium smoke, etc.) that relieve the spasm for a few minutes without preventing the risk of a speedy relapse. And it is a curious and almost unaccountable fact that smoke, dust, and other impurities of the indoor atmosphere, rather enhance the effectiveness of the prescription for that special purpose. The most plausible guess at the rationale of that experience is the conjecture that the aforesaid admixtures of the indoor air oblige the lungs to effect the work of expulsion by opening some gate which incidentally relieves the spasm of the asthma-fit. Always provided that the remedy is applied only at long intervals and in moderate doses. An excess of dust, breathed day after day, clogs the tissue of the lungs to an irremediable degree, and millers are notoriously subject to chronic asthma in its most incurable, if not most distressing, forms.