This section is from the book "Health Without Medicine. A Treatise On The Laws Of The Human System", by Larkin B. Coles. Also available from Amazon: Philosophy Of Health.
There is no class of persons who are under higher obligations to observe the laws of health, than those who are connected, whether as teachers or pupils, with literary institutions. Thousands have been ruined for life, so far as the enjoyment of health is concerned, and lost to the world, with all their native talents and acquired abilities, by violating those laws. Whereas, by attention and obedience to them, a balance between the healthy action of body and mind might have been preserved, and themselves and the world would have enjoyed the avails of their existence. Young men and young ladies enter upon a course of education with good health, and long before that course is finished their constitutions give way, and they are obliged to retire from study: or, if able to finish their education, they have scarcely physical energy enough left to apply their mental resources to any practical purpose. To effect a change which shall obviate this evil, will require the attention both of teachers and students.
Students should live on simple food; and remember to "eat to live, and not live to eat." To gormandize is beneath the dignity of one who has mind enough to make it worth while to submit it to a process of culture: indeed, a man who has the soul of an intellectual being will never do it. Students should avoid those things which are hard to digest. They should have food that is palatable, and well, yet with simplicity, prepared. The less animal food -- even none at all -- the better. They should rigidly and scrupulously confine themselves to three -- if not to two -- meals a day; and for reasons given explicitly under Dietetic Rules. They should never apply their minds to study or reading at least for one hour after their meal is finished: but they should make themselves amused and cheerful in some way which neither requires the effort of body or mind: they should be at leisure, and endeavor to enjoy themselves. The reason for this course, as before stated, is, that if the nervous energies, required in the digestive process, are called away to some physical or intellectual effort, great injury is done to the digestive department. From this cause, and perhaps mainly this, thousands on thousands have cither entirely broken down, or rendered themselves sufferers for life.
After one hour from the time 'the meal is finished, they may with safety set themselves down to study; i.e., if they have eaten with such moderation as all students ought to use: if not, they should wait longer; -- yes, if they will not eat properly, let them retire from the institution, which is no place for gluttons, and devote themselves to corporeal labor -- labor at the anvil, or in the western wilds, felling trees, where they could practise engorgement with comparative impunity. After spending about half an hour in thoroughly masticating their meal -- being careful not to spend that time in too much talking, which not only interferes with mastication, but may agitate the mind, as would be the case in all argumentative conversation -- and then one hour in gentle amusement or cheerful leisure, they are ready to bind their whole mental force to study. Under this arrangement, six hours a day of study will accomplish more in the long run than twelve hours in the ordinary way.
Exercise is another duty of students. It is exceedingly important that a balance between the mental and physical energies should be maintained; otherwise the body withers under its superincumbent weight. To preserve this balance while the mind is advancing, and the body untasked, artificial exercise must be instituted; for bodily strength cannot be promoted without some kind of bodily exertion.
The best time for exercise for students is about an hour before meal times; so as to give about three-fourths of an hour for hard labor, and a quarter of an hour to rest, before eating. Exercise in this way can be taken once, twice, or three times a day, as circumstances may require. The length of time devoted to exercise, and the severity of the effort which each one requires, cannot be defined by certain rules: the constitution and circumstances of each individual, aided by common sense, must determine. But every individual student requires some exercise; and it should be taken sufficiently prior to a following meal to give a little respite from exertion just previous to sitting down to eat. A division of time, between each meal, something like the following, may do as a general rule: spend half an hour in eating, one hour in leisure, two and a half hours in close study, and one hour in labor; leaving off in season to get the system calm before the next meal.
The kind of exercise to be taken may properly be a matter of inquiry. To settle upon any one kind for universal application, may be difficult. A mechanic's shop exercise may be very beneficial for body and mind. At any rate, it should be something which is adapted to give not only exercise to the muscular system, but, if possible, at the same time, a. source of amusement. Making trunks and boxes may secure this object. Sawing or chopping wood, however profitable it may be, may require too severe exertion, and may not prove to be very much amusement to the mind. The bowling alley, aside from the odium of its general character, its bewitching charms, and its tendencies to various kinds of dissipation, might afford a most desirable method of promoting muscular strength and mental exhilaration. Exercise in the line of agricultural pursuits, when it can be had, is, perhaps, everything considered, the best kind. In the use of this, there is the advantage of the open air, the smell of vegetation, the effluvia from the ground, and the vigorous action of the muscles of the arms and chest. This last benefit -- one which may be had in other modes of exercise also -- is very important generally, and especially where there is any tendency to falling in of the chest and Jung affection.
Walking is another kind of exercise generally employed; but it is one of very little service generally: it is better than nothing, but very insufficient. It only calls into exertion the lower limbs, which least need exercise, while the muscles of the chest and abdomen, which need them most, are not called into exertion. Horseback exercise has the same deficiency. At female schools some method should be chosen for exercise which combines the three important considerations above mentioned, namely, general muscular exertion, adapted to their strength, mental exhilaration, and the special action of the arms and trunk. Jumping the rope is too exciting and severe. A bowling alley for young ladies, who of course would never allow themselves to become dissipated, would bo an excellent exercise and amusement for them. Let all students remember that if they would preserve good health, THEY MUST EXERCISE; and that in doing this, they also give vigor and vivacity to the intellect, as well as energy and health to the body.
The managers of literary institutions have a great responsibility in this matter. If they would secure the physical and intellectual welfare of those under their care, which doubtless they would, they must put themselves to the trouble of providing for and regulating means to accomplish that object.
Provision should be made for the exercise of their students. Means for agricultural exercise should be provided, if possible, for that portion of the year in which it is practicable. A mechanic's shop, or something to subserve the same purpose, should be provided for the winter season; and a requirement on every student to attend on this important duty, should be established; so that no loafer should find an easy passport through any literary institution.
Recitations should be so arranged as to accommodate the periods allotted to eating and digesting food, and those allotted to labor and relaxation. A recitation should never be required just preceding or just succeeding a meal. If it immediately precede a meal, the nervous energies have been drawn so intently to the mental effort, that they cannot at once be diverted and drawn toward the digestive effort. Therefore, a short space should be granted for relaxation from any active employment of the nervous system, immediately preceding a meal. If the recitation immediately succeed a meal, the process of digestion is interrupted. It would be far better that recitations should be so arranged as to come somewhere within the period allotted to close study. Then there would be no interference with the natural action of the system. But to go into a recitation-room just after a meal, is a violation of law, which is perfectly suicidal; and to be forced there by academic law, is gradual manslaughter.
And now the important question is, will the managers of literary institutions regulate this matter so as not to stand in the way of their students' obeying the laws of their being? Will they hinder, or will they facilitate, their employing the proper method of securing health of body and mind? Will they aid in keeping up such a balance between mental and physical power, that there may be a prospect that the world will be benefited by the existence of their institutions?
The food and drinks also, which are furnished, should be adapted to the best interests of their students. If meats be set aside, pains should be taken to furnish a palatable and wholesome vegetable diet. And as coffee and tea should never see the inside of any apartment of a literary institution, nourishing drinks should be furnished in their place. Every institution's guardians should most earnestly recommend, if not require, ten o'clock to be the hour for closing study and for retiring to rest; for there is nothing gained, but much lost, by studying after that hour of night. It is generally admitted by medical men, that sleep is worth more before than after midnight; that two hours' good sleep before twelve o'clock is worth more than four after that hour.