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Exercise And Growth

Source: A Handbook Of Health

Fatigue as a Danger Signal. The chief use of exercise in childhood,
whether of body or mind, is to make us grow; but it can do this only by
being kept within limits. Within these limits it will increase the vigor
of the heart, expand the lungs, clear the brain, deepen sleep, and
improve the appetite. Beyond these limits it stunts the body, dulls the
brain, overstrains the heart, and spoils the appetite. How are we going
to tell when these limits are being reached? Nature has provided a
danger signal--fatigue, or tiredness.

Fatigue is due, not to complete exhaustion, but to poisoning of the
muscle, or nerve, by its own waste substances. If the fatigue is
general, or all over, it is from these waste substances piling up in
the blood faster than the lungs, skin, and kidneys can get rid of them.
In other words, fatigue is a form of self-poisoning.

We can see how it is that exercise, which, up to the point of fatigue,
is both healthful and improving, when carried on after we are tired,
becomes just the opposite. Fatigue is nature's signal, Enough for this
time! That is why all methods of training for building up strength and
skill, both of mind and muscle, forbid exercising beyond well-marked
fatigue. If you yourself stop at this point in exercising, you will
find, the next time you try that particular exercise, that you can go a
little further before fatigue is felt; the third time, a little further
yet; and so, by degrees, you can build up both your body and brain to
the fullest development of which they are capable.

In muscular training, a series of light, quick movements, none of which
are fatiguing, repeated fifteen, twenty, or a hundred times, will do
much more to build up muscle and increase strength, than three or four
violent, heaving strains that tax all your strength. Real athletes and
skilled trainers, for instance, use half-or three-quarter-pound
dumb-bells and one-or two-pound Indian clubs, instead of the five-pound
dumb-bells and ten-pound clubs with which would-be athletes delight to
decorate their rooms. A thoroughbred race-horse is trained on the same
principle: he is never allowed to gallop until tired, or to put out his
full speed before he is well grown. In fact, the best methods of all
forms of exercising and training always stop just short of fatigue.
Education and study ought to be planned on the same principle. Exercise
of either our muscles or our minds after they have begun to poison
themselves through fatigue never does them any good, even if it does not
do them serious harm; and, where the exercise is for the sake of
building us up and developing our powers, it is best to stop for a
little while, or change the task, as soon as we begin to feel distinctly
tired, and then to try it again when we are rested.

This is one of the secrets of the healthfulness and value of play and
games for children, and for older persons as well. When you get tired,
you can stop and rest; and then start in again when you feel
rested--that is to say, when your heart has washed the poisons out of
your muscles and nerves. In fact, if you will notice, you will find
that nearly all play and games are arranged on this plan--a period of
activity followed by a period of rest. Some games have regular
innings, with alternate activity and rest for the players; or each
player takes his turn at doing the hard work; or the players are
constantly changing from one thing to another--for instance, throwing or
striking the ball one minute; running to first base the next; and
standing on base the next. Every muscle, every sense, every part of you
is exercised at once, or in rapid succession, and no part has time to
become seriously fatigued; so that you can play hard all the afternoon
and never once be uncomfortably tired, though your muscles have done a
tremendous lot of work, measured in foot-pounds or boy-power, in that

The good school imitates nature in this respect. The recitation periods
are short, and recesses frequent; a heavy subject is followed by a
lighter one; songs, drawing, calisthenics, and marching are mixed in
with the lessons, so as to give every part of the mind and body plenty
to do, and yet not over-tire any part.

All-Round Training from Work and Play. Every game that is worth
playing, every kind of work that accomplishes anything worth while,
trains and develops not merely the muscles and the heart, but the sight,
hearing, touch, and sense of balance, and the powers of judgment,
memory, and reason, as well.

If you are healthy, you know that you don't need to be told to play, or
even how, or what, to play; for you would rather play than eat. You have
as strong and natural an appetite for play as you have for food when you
are hungry, or for water when you are thirsty, or for sleep when you are
tired. It is just as right to follow the one instinct as the others,
though any one may be carried to extremes.

Some of the most important part of your training and fitting for life
is given by plays and games. Not only do they put you in better
condition to study and enjoy your work in school, but they also teach
you many valuable lessons as well. Our favorite national game,
base-ball, for instance, not only develops the muscles of your arms and
shoulders in throwing the ball and in striking and catching it, and your
lungs and heart in rushing to catch a fly or in running the bases, but
also develops quickness of sight and hearing,--requires, as we say, a
good eye for distance,--makes you learn to calculate something of the
speed at which a ball is coming toward you or flying up into the air,
requires you to judge correctly how far it is to the next base and how
few seconds it will take to get there and whether you or the baseman can
get there first.

More important yet, like all team games, it teaches you to work with
others, to obey orders promptly, to give up your own way and do, not
what you like best, but what will help the team most; to keep your
temper, to bend every energy to win, but to play fair. It also teaches
you that you must begin at the beginning, take the lowest place, and
gradually work yourself up; and that only by hard work and patience and
determination can you make yourself worth anything to the team, to say
nothing of becoming a star player.

If you will just go at your studies the way you do at base-ball, you
will make a success of them. Make up your mind to gain a little at a
time, to learn something new every day, and you will be astonished how
your knowledge will mount up at the end of the year. When you first
start in a new study, it looks, as you say, like Greek to you. You
feel quite sure that you never will be able to understand those hard
words or solve those problems clear over in the back of the book. But
remember how you started in on the diamond as a green player, with
fumbling fingers that missed half the balls thrown to you, with soft
hands that stung every time you tried to stop a hot ball; how you
ducked and flinched when a fast ball came at you, and how you fumbled
half your flies and, even when you fielded them, were likely to send
them in six feet over the baseman's head. But by quietly sticking to
it--watching how the good players did it, and playing an hour or two
every day during the season--you gradually grew into the game, until,
almost without knowing how it happened, you had trained your muscles,
your nerve cells, and your brain and found yourself a good batsman and a
sure catcher.

So it will be in your school work. Just stick quietly to it, taking your
work a lesson at a time; give yourself plenty of sleep and plenty of
fresh air, and eat plenty of good food three times a day, and your mind
will grow in strength and skill as gradually, as naturally, and as
happily as your body does.

Every season of the year has its special games suited to the weather and
the condition of the ground. If you take pride in playing all of them in
their turn, hard and thoroughly, and making as good a record in them as
you can, you will find that it will not only keep you healthy and make
you grow, but will help you in your school work as well, by keeping
your wits bright and your head clear. There is a fine group of running
games, for instance, such as Prisoner's Base, or Dare Base,
Hide-and-Seek, or I Spy, and the different kinds of tag,--Fox-and-Geese,
Duck-on-Rock,--which are not only capital exercise for leg muscles,
lungs, and heart, but fine training in quickness of sight, quickness and
accuracy of judgment, and quickness of ear in catching the slightest
rustle on either side, or behind you, so that you can rush back to the
base, or home, first.

Then with the winter comes skating, with hockey and Prisoner's Base on
the ice, and coasting and sledding and snow-balling, to say nothing of
forts and snowmen. You should try to be out of doors as many hours a day
in the winter-time as in the summer, so far as possible. If you play and
romp hard, you will find that you don't mind the cold at all, and that,
instead of taking more colds and chills, you will have fewer of these
than you had when you cooped yourself up indoors beside the warm stove.

It is just as important for girls to play all these games as it is for
boys; and girls enjoy them just as much and can play them almost, if not
quite, as well, if they are only allowed to begin when they are small
and do just as they please. There is no reason whatever why a girl
should not be just as quick of eye and ear, and as fast on the run, and
as well able to throw or catch or bat a ball, as a boy. Up to fifteen
years of age boys and girls alike ought to be dressed in clothes that
will allow them to play easily and vigorously at any good game that
happens to be in season. Girls like base-ball as well as boys do, if
they are only shown how to play it.

In summer, of course, the whole wide world outdoors turns into one great
playground; and it is largely because we turn out into this playground
that we have so much less sickness, and so many fewer cases of the
serious diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and rheumatism in summer
than in winter.

Boys and girls ought to know how to swim and how to handle a boat before
they are twelve years old; for these are not only excellent forms of
exercise and most healthful and enjoyable amusements in themselves, but
they may be the means of saving lives--one's own life or the lives of

As a form of exercise and education combined, nothing is better than
walks in the country or, where this is impossible, in parks and public
gardens. An acquaintance with trees, flowers, plants, birds, and wild
animals, is one of the greatest sources of enjoyment and good health
that any one can have all his life through.

Last, but not by any means least, comes that delightful combination of
work and play known as gardening, and the lighter forms of farming.
Every child naturally delights in having a little patch of ground of his
own in which he can dig and rake and weed and plant seeds and watch the
plants grow. In our large cities, where most of the houses have not
sufficient space about them to allow children to have gardens of their
own at home, land is being bought near school-houses and laid out as
school gardens, and the work done in them is counted as part of the
school work. Indeed, so important is this work considered as a part of
school education, that some large cities are actually building their
schools out in the open country, so that they can have plenty of space
for playgrounds and gardens and shops, and carrying the children from
the central parts of the city out to them by trolley or train in the
morning and back at night.

Wherever you happen to live, you should engage in healthy happy,
vigorous play in the open air at least two to four hours a day all the
year round. If you live in a town, while it will not be quite so easy to
reach the woods and the fields and the swimming holes and the skating
ponds, yet you will have a large number of playmates of your own age,
and have good opportunity to play the games calling for half a dozen or
more players; and there will be plenty of vacant lots and open spaces,
or little-traveled streets, in which to play base-ball and foot-ball and
Prisoner's Base and tag. And although you may not be within reach of the
best zoological garden ever made,--a barnyard,--yet you can make
occasional trips to the city Zoo, or the botanical gardens, or to

Healthful Methods of Study. In the growth and training of the highest,
most valuable, and most wonderful part of the body--the brain--the same
methods followed in our outdoor games will give the best results. We do
not create intelligence by study, nor manufacture a brain for ourselves,
in school. We simply develop and strengthen and improve the brains and
the mental power that we were born with.

Our minds grow as our bodies do, by healthful exercise--little at a
time, with plenty of rest and change of occupation between the periods
of work. That is why our school studies are arranged as they are:
instead of one subject being studied all the morning, or all day, four
or five subjects are studied for twenty or thirty minutes each, and a
change is made to another before our minds become over-tired and begin
poisoning themselves with fatigue toxins. A subject that is rather hard
for us is followed by one that is easier; and the hardest subjects in
the course are usually taken up early in the morning session, or after
recess, or early in the afternoon, when we are well-rested and feeling
fresh and ready for work.

We should try to keep our bodies and our brains and our sight and
hearing in the very best possible condition for our work, so as to come
up to each task that we have to master keen and fresh and clear-headed,
rather than to take pride in spending so many hours a day studying in a
half-tired, half-hearted, listless kind of way. You will find that you
will be able to master a lesson and see through a problem in half the
time if you get plenty of sleep in a room with the windows open, play a
great deal out-of-doors, and do not hurry through your meals for either
school or play.

Study just as you play ball when you are trying to make a place on the
team. Bend every energy that you have to that one thing, and forget
everything else, until you have finished it. You can do more work in
fifteen minutes in this way than you can in forty minutes of sitting and
looking out of the window and wondering how much longer the study period
is to last, and what the next chapter is about in the story that you are
reading at home, or what you are going to wear to the party next week.

Keep yourself in good condition, and then buckle down to your work as if
that were the only thing there was in the world for the time being, and
you will be surprised to find, not only how much more easily and quickly
you will do your work, but how much better you will remember it
afterwards. Do not set out to accomplish too much at a time; but when
you undertake a task, don't let go until you have finished it. If you
will train yourself in this way, you will soon find that it will seldom
take you longer to master a lesson than it will to recite it. It is
becoming more and more the custom in the best schools to plan to do all
the school work in school hours, alternating periods of recitation and
play with periods of study, so that no school-books need be taken home
at night. This cannot always be done; but it is well to come as near to
it as possible, in order, first, to learn to do work quickly and
thoroughly and to drop it when it is finished, and, secondly, to give
time to playing and resting and forming the priceless habit of reading.
You will leave school some day, but you may still be a student in the
great University of Books; and the pleasure of widening your knowledge
and kindling your imagination will never fail you or pall on you as long
as you live. An evening spent with newspapers and magazines, with books
of travel and adventure, with good stories and poetry, with enjoyable
and sensible parlor games such as authors, checkers, chess, charades,
and with music and singing, will help you more with your lessons next
day than two hours of listless yawning over text-books.

If you take your school work in this spirit, you will find that you will
enjoy it quite as well as any other form of exercise--even play itself.
The harder and more intelligently you play, the better you will be able
to work in the schoolroom; and the harder and more intelligently you
study, the more you will enjoy your play.

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