The living body is organized for the performance of function. Function is its great purpose, the normal and vigorous performance of which constitutes health; it is only when abnormal action occurs, coincident with and usually dependent upon reduced power, that the operations of life become painful and we seek relief. For this reason it is desirable to emphasize the importance of vigorous function. No high standard of health can be maintained upon a basis of feeble function. Inefficient performance of the vital functions is precedent to the development of every symptom complex, whether acute, sub-acute or chronic.
The key to robust life, to functional vigor, to the preservation and recovery of health, to the solution of the problems of invalidism, lies in an understanding of the normal means by which life is evolved and maintained. As sure as effects follow causes in any and all departments of nature, an understanding of the causes that lead to the evolution of disease will enable us to remove these causes and provide the causes of health and thus be restored to health.
The sick seek to be cured; they expect this to be done by drugs or by something else outside of themselves--by baths, by electricity, by radium, by x-rays, and most practitioners of the various schools of so-called healing practice upon the same erroneous theory. It should be understood that there is no more healing power in a Turkish bath, an electrical current, a massage or any other agency of this type than there is in a drug. A mud bath possesses no more healing power than a dose of penicillin. It has the negative virtue of being less harmful and this is all that may be said in its favor.
In an article which was published in Health, May June (1883), Dr. Walter tells us that many Hygienists of the period had adopted the opinion that baths, electricity, massage, Swedish movements and other such agents possess curative virtues, and they employed them to such excess that they brought odium upon both the method and upon Hygiene. They reasoned, he tells us, that, if massage cures patients, why shall they not be manipulated every hour of the day; if baths or electricity or movements possess curative virtue, how can the patient have too much of them?
Walter calls this reasoning and the practices based upon it a "fatal blunder" and says that it grew "out of indefiniteness of thought and language." He says that the odium this practice brought upon the Hygienic System was "hardly to be measured" and adds: "Formerly it was the water-cure and the extremes to which water-cure practices were carried is almost passing belief. Others assert that health is to be restored through movements, and patients are manipulated and rubbed and stretched by the hour, only to fail of the results sought . . . massage by the hour is the practice everywhere."
Dr. Walter himself was instrumental in helping to popularize massage and thought that it could be made to work wonders in improving the circulation and nutrition of the patient; but he advocated five to 15 minutes of massage rather than hours of it. It is true that if a thing is good, it can be overdone and Walter's criticism of the work of his fellow practitioners was that they were overdoing a good thing.
The means employed in restoring health and vigor, to be effective, must harmonize with physiology and biology, as manifested under the peculiar circumstances of disease. The difference between health and disease is not radical. The invalid is subject to the same laws, affected by the same agencies and is to be cared for on the same principle as the man in health. The subject of getting well by the use of the same means that keep one well should be of utmost interest to everyone, whether well or sick.
How are we to improve in strength and vigor? Are strength and vigor not to be obtained in the same way and by the same means which have given us whatever power and capacity we now possess? Is not the natural way of gaining power also the scientific way of increasing it? Nutrition alone is the source of all vital power. It is through nutrition that we come into existence; it is through nutrition that we have whatever vigor we possess and our health corresponds precisely to the quality of our nutrition. This is not only true of all human beings, but of all plant and animal life. Life itself, wherever found, with all its marvelous capacities and enjoyments, is wholly the result of nutrition. Whatever improves and maintains nutrition is the source of increased vigor.
Better digestion of better food, more oxygen and more sunshine, adequate rest and sleep, better circulation through exercise, while thought, worry, stimulation, etc., are restricted or discontinued, will enable us to accumulate the very gold of vital existence and will enrich us with the power that lives, enjoys, maintains health and restores health when ill. But these things are merely the materials of nutrition and no forcing measures are to be considered in our efforts to increase vigor.
When the vital forces are maintained at a low ebb, they are frittered away without accomplishing the best results. The engineer who would open the valves of his engine and permit the escape of the steam while the pressure is scarcely sufficient to propel the engine would be justly regarded as a fool because he foolishly wastes power without accomplishing the desired work; whereas, to close the valves would result in an accumulation of a degree of pressure sufficient to produce vigorous action and consequently perform efficient work. In like manner, the man who creeps through life half exhausted, perhaps a chronic invalid, never allowing himself the opportunity for sufficient recuperation to secure vigorous function or who indulges in habits that are exhausting, is equally unwise. He fritters away his time, his talents, his opportunities, and in the end is snuffed out prematurely because he refused to hoard a little power as provision against an accident or emergency. The quality of the work done must ever bear close relation to the force employed in doing it and he whose powers are low cannot do work of good quality.
It is a truism that something cannot come out of nothing. The performance of work requires corresponding expenditure, necessitating, in order to its continuance, a constant supply of working capital. The use of structures wears them and this necessitates sufficient repair. From the blood is derived the materials not alone of function (work), but those also of repair. Deoxygenation, devitalization and depletion of the blood is the necessary result of the extraction from the blood stream of the materials of function and of structural production and repair. This necessitates regular revitalization, reoxygenation and replenishment. These desirable processes are not to be achieved by overfeeding, forced feeding, forced deep breathing, excessive water drinking, excessive sun bathing, or by excesses of any kind. These do not guarantee good nutrition, but rather, in most instances, the reverse.
If food is strength, we need never be weak. Food is not strength and no amount of it crowded into the stomach when there is no power to digest will add to our strength. The sudden upsurge of bodily energy sometimes seen when food is taken into the stomach or is merely held in the mouth indicates that the ingestion of more food results in a release of stores that have been held in reserve, not that the undigested food has added strength to the body.
Rest and sleep are nature's great representative restorative processes. The man who is depleted and weak needs rest. Massage, manipulation, electricity, hot and cold baths, steam baths, forced exercise, tonics and stimulants and other means of forcing expenditure prevent rest and recuperation, hence add to the invalid's depletion. Restoration of health and strength depends not upon non-nutritive elements and processes that invariably disrupt the processes of life and impair nutrition, but upon nutrition in its broadest sense.
We divide rest into four kinds: physical rest, which may be obtained by discontinuing physical activity, going to bed and relaxing; sensory rest, the need for which is more urgent in acute disease but is also marked in chronic conditions, and which is secured by quiet and by refraining from using the eyes; mental rest, which is secured by poising the mind, this is to say, by ceasing to worry and to fret and by the cultivation of mental equilibrium; and physiological rest, which may be obtained by reducing physiological activities. This last form of rest may be best obtained by either greatly reducing the amount of food taken or by abstaining from food altogether.
How much rest must one take? Just as much as is required to recuperate nervous energy. The amount of rest required will vary with the circumstances and conditions of life. In youth, recuperation is commonly rapid and short periods of rest suffice. As age advances and, also, as the condition of the body deteriorates, the process of recuperation is correspondingly impaired and longer periods of rest are needed. Invalids, especially chronic invalids, often need prolonged periods of rest. Rest in this instance should be understood to mean physical, sensory, mental and physiological rest.