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Exercise And Growth

Sources: 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.