Exercise: A Hygienic Perspective By Ralph C. Cinque, D.C.
That daily exercise is essential to develop and maintain good health is one Hygienic principle upon which there seems to be universal agreement. Even the medical profession encourages regular exercise as a means of prolonging youthfulness and promoting cardiovascular well-being. The overall merits of regular exercise are fully recognized, and we have no need here to further expound upon them.
However, there exists a great deal of confusion regarding the relationship between exercise and health. Many people equate health with physical conditioning. The classical American model of male health is represented by a robust well-muscled physique, with erect posture, great strength and power. Without necessarily deriding this ideal, I must insist that it is not synonymous with health. There is not always a direct proportion between the level of physical conditioning and the level of overall health. Physical conditioning is only one aspect of health. The best athlete is not necessarily the most healthy. The one who runs ten miles is not necessarily in better health than the one who runs only five, or one, or for that matter, none at all.
I once overheard a well-developed body builder relate to his companion that he was subject to occasional episodes of gout. Every few weeks one or the other leg and foot would swell up and produce agonizing pain. He would be crippled for days at a time and would have to resort to large doses of aspirin and other pain-killers in order to obtain relief. This incident made a tremendous impact on me because this particular body builder had an absolutely splendid physique. His muscular development, his posture, his body weight, his carriage, his symmetry, and his proportions were virtually ideal. He had the physique of a Greek god. By all popular notions, he was a picture of health. Yet, it should be obvious to the readers of this article that his health was far from perfect. Gout does not develop without causes, and being well-muscled does not lessen its implications or severity. How ironic that in the
process of building an admirable outward condition, he built a morbid internal condition. It is likely that his interest in body building prompted him to follow a high-protein diet and to use protein supplements, liver extracts, etc., and that these practices were mostly responsible for the development of gout.
Although it is true that those who engage in regular physical activity achieve greater longevity than those who are largely sedentary, it has not been shown that superb athletes achieve greater longevity than those of moderate ability. With the exception of cardiovascular diseases, the incidence of degenerative diseases among athletes (such as cancer and arthritis) is approximately the same as for non-athletes. Lou Gehrig died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Babe Ruth died of cancer. There have been many outstanding athletes who have died tragically of crippling diseases.
Acute diseases are equally as common among athletes. Many an athletic contest has been postponed due to colds and flus. Tennis star Jimmy Connors was recuperating from a month-long bout of mononucleosis right before one of the Wimbledon tournaments, and some have suggested that this was a factor in his loss to Borg.
Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the popular notion today is that exercise will insure us against disease. We are told that as long as you run everyday, you can eat all the fatty meats you want and not develop arteriosclerosis, for the running will keep down blood cholesterol and prevent arterial plaquing. We are told that playing tennis regularly will enable the body to “burn up” the caffeine and other toxic alkaloids of coffee and cola drinks, so drink all you want. Regular exercise will keep down blood pressure, so why cut out salt? Exercise diligently, perhaps excessively, and ignore every other aspect of Hygiene. That is the advice we receive from many of the “experts.”
As Hygienists, we must stress the fact that exercise does not insure against disease and it does not remedy disease. All it can possibly do is supply the body’s need for activity. If the individual who exercises but ignores proper diet fares better than the one who neither exercises or eats correctly, we can account for this by recognizing that the latter ignored two life essentials while the former ignored only one. Exercise does not undo the effects of dietary abuses, but a lack of exercise may compound the effects of dietary abuses.
The body has physiological needs that can only be met through vigorous physical activity. The development of muscular strength and endurance, a powerful heart, great respiratory capacity, vibrant circulation, thorough lymphatic drainage and superb neuromuscular coordination all require the influence of regular exercise. However, from the standpoint of overall health, there is a limit to the amount of good that the body can derive from regular exercise. The body’s actual physiological needs for exercise are not as great as some people believe. We do not have to become marathon runners in order to avoid cardiovascular disease. One can achieve high-level health without ever developing outstanding athletic capabilities. Of course we have no objection to vigorous physical training, and we recognize that it is the only way to enhance performance. Possessing great strength, speed and endurance is practical and desirable even if it doesn’t guarantee great health or longevity.
Vigorous exercise entails a tremendous energy expenditure. This expenditure is compensated for in the physiological benefits that we derive from exercise. The amount of energy that we can safely expend in physical activity depends upon the level of our overall health and vitality. The invalid, who is in great need of rest, can only engage in brief and mild periods of exercise without enervation. The seasoned athlete, on the other hand, may be able to perform amazing feats of strength and endurance without dissipation. It is difficult to designate arbitrarily what constitutes excess in the realm of physical activity because individual factors are the most important considerations. What is excessive for one person may be unproductive for someone else.
The initial effect of exercise is to deplete the body of nerve force and tissue substance. The secondary and lasting effect, however, is to strengthen and build the body. This occurs while resting as the body prepares for future episodes of activity. Exercise must be vigorous in order to be effective. Slow walking, sauntering along on a bicycle, casually twirling the extremities—these activities are of little value. Subjecting the body to stress (within reasonable limits) is what exercise is all about. Exercise must be invigorating, strenous, challenging and taxing in order to occasion dynamic physiological changes. Only by placing great demands upon our bodies can we acquire great strength and stamina.
A short period of vigorous activity is more beneficial than a long period of mild activity. A short but hard run will build greater power than a long slow jog. It is also less depleting. Lifting a heavy weight a few times will build greater strength than lifting a light weight many times. A good exercise regime will provide for both endurance, the ability to sustain an activity over a long period and strength, the ability to overcome resistance in a single instance, as well as speed and agility. A well known jogging expert advised a woman recently to run slower in order to increase her jogging distance to ten miles. My advice would have been just the opposite, that is, to run a shorter distance harder, thereby deriving greater physiological benefits and less profound exhaustion.
Determining the best manner in which to train depends upon what one’s objectives are. The person who is exercising for general health and fitness will have different goals than the one who is trying to achieve excellence in some particular sport. Obviously, one can only become a great long-distance runner if one habitually runs long distances. One can only become a great cyclist if one cycles regularly. Great swimmers become so only by putting in many hours in the pool. Developing outstanding capability requires participation far in excess of the body’s physiological needs for activity. However, expenditures of this kind can be made without depleting the body as long as the individual gradually subjects his or her body to greater stress, and makes a point to secure enough rest and sleep to fully compensate for the added exertion. For example, one should not attempt to run long distances (30 to 40 miles per week) while going to school full time and working (as I once tried to do). It is possible to become progressively more enervated even as one’s level of conditioning improves. However, for the individual with a less hectic schedule, who is able to rest 9 to 10 hours every day, such a running program may be entirely constructive.
Unfortunately, many runners do overexert themselves. The effects of excess vary from mild to severe strains and sprains. Pronounced physiological depression marked by weight loss, loss of libido, insomnia, amenorrhea ‘in the female, and digestive disturbances have resulted from an overly strenuous training schedule. These problems are usually resolved easily by securing more rest and curtailing one’s activity. In some instances, too rapid progression is found to the crux of the problem.
Which activities are best from a Hygienic standpoint? As always, we refer the argument back to Nature. Those activities that conform with physiological principles relating to joint motion and body mechanics are most desirable. Formal exercise is really just a substitute for natural activities that we would perform in a state of Nature. All natural activities require total body participation. When we run, jump, climb, swim, etc., our bodies are acting as a unit, even though certain muscle groups may be playing a predominant role. Such activities not only strengthen and condition us, they enhance body energy, coordination, balance and freedom. By entailing a fluidity of motion, these activities enable us to avoid excessive strain and tension. In contrast, activities that entail rigid postures, isolated muscular efforts, and limited ranges of motion, may have the opposite effect, that is, to increase tension and to stress the joints and muscles.
Perhaps running is the most natural human activity. Like deer, human beings are running animals. We are capable of running great distances smoothly, effortlessly and efficiently. Certainly we are not aquatic animals and bicycles never grew on trees. Team sports are popular because of cultural influences, not biological inclinations. Running is considered to be the most superb exercise for strengthening the heart, lungs and circulation. It is not necessary to run great distances in order to derive these physiological benefits. Running 2 to 3 miles every other day is fully adequate to achieve optimal cardiovascular conditioning. Those who wish to run greater distances can do so, but no one should feel compelled to run longer than this for health reasons. Running sprints, running up hills, running up stairs and other variations are likely to be of greater value than just jogging. Running alone is not adequate for good conditioning. Such activities as vigorous calistenics, weight training and gymnastics round out an exercise program that includes running. This is particularly important in regard to developing the upper torso and extremities, which are largely undeveloped by running.
When is the best time to exercise? Again, we must apply Hygienic reasoning. Eat when you are hungry. Drink when you are thirsty. Rest when you are tired. So it would follow that you should exercise when you feel vigorous. It is a mistake to use exercise as a stimulant, to perk ourselves up through exercise when our bodies are actually calling for rest and sleep. A feeling of relative vibrancy should precede and occasion our workouts and not vice versa. If we feel languid, we should rest until our energies have been recuperated to the point that we feel like becoming active. If you happen to feel all washed out on any given day, it would be unHygienic to force yourself to exercise in spite of it. Just as we can rouse up an appetite by eating, even in the absence of hunger, so too can we rouse up a feeling of invigoration by exercise, but the latter is just as artificial as in the former. Get in tune with your body and seek always to supply your body’s needs as they fluctuate in the course of daily life. There is really no best time to exercise, just as there is no best time to eat. Some mornings I feel inclined o start running right out of bed, and I do so. Other mornings I feel no such inclination, so I postpone or cancel my usual run. Learn to live with a flexible schedule in regard to exercise, and for that matter, all aspects of Hygiene.
Can a person attain great athletic ability eating fruits, nuts and vegetables? The answer is a qualified yes. I was introduced to Hygiene by two brothers, both in their 30’s, who had been Hygienists for many years and who were excellent runners of marathon caliber. Eating Hygienically lends itself to great athletic achievement, particularly in endurance activities. A high alkalinizing diet, composed largely of fresh fruits and vegetables, enhances one’s oxidative powers and one’s ability to sustain muscular effort. On the other hand, such a diet promotes rather slender body build. I have never met a raw fooder with a “Charles Atlas” physique and doubt that I ever will. For one thing, the diet is too low in protein. Secondly, raw vegetable foods do not stimulate anabolism the way cooked foods do. Yet, lean muscularity may be closer to the biological norm for physical development than the immense size that we generally associate with classical body building. It is unlikely that human beings in a state of Nature, living on the spontaneous products of the trees in a gentle climate, would tend to massive physiques. Peoples throughout the world who are known for achieving great longevity tend, as a rule, to be rather slender. Keep in mind that I do not object to weight training or bodybuilding, but only to the excessive bulkiness that many weight lifters develop.
Many Hygienists are too thin and underdeveloped. In most cases, barring pathological causes, this is the result of an overly restrictive diet, both in regard to quantity and variety of food and to inadequate physical training. In all fairness, however, we must recognize that the paucity of outstanding athletes among Hygienists is due mostly to the paucity of Hygienists. Yet, Hygiene has not been without its talents. Among our practitioners, for example, Dr. Sidhwa is a first-rate long-distance runner. Dr. Burton is a prominent cyclist in Australia who competes regularly in grueling races. Dr. Benesh is a veteran physical culturist who, at the age of 67, engages in weight training, running and vigorous calisthenics. The last time I visited him, he said apologetically that he was running only six miles a day, but added quite candidly, “I try to take it at a fast clip.” Dr. Shelton, himself, was an outstanding weight lifter and had a rugged build that matched his personality.
What role does exercise play in the recovery of health? I believe that it plays a greater role than some Hygienists think. Unfortunately, many Hygienists are preoccupied with food and fasting. To them, life is one great cleansing. They live from one fast to the next one. Or they consume themselves in concerns over food in between. Purification becomes their greatest goal in life, elimination the ultimate purpose in living. They fail to see fasting for what it is—a temporary expedient that enables us to secure a foundation from which to build ourselves. The only contests they wish to enter are fasting marathons. They never give their bodies a chance to enter a building phase. They deny themselves, by their imbalance, the opportunity to grow, to develop a physique, to acquire great strength, speed and endurance. Instead of practicing Hygiene so as to live, they live so as to practice Hygiene—a most unHygienic endeavor. It is no wonder that such individuals remain weak, puny and pedestrian in their lives.
Among feeble children, particularly, I have found exercise to be of greatest importance in building vigor and promoting growth and development. Those with weak digestion can derive much benefit from engaging in vigorous physical workouts. The role of exercise in promoting recovery in tuberculosis, and other respiratory problems, is well known. Exercise strengthens not only our muscles, but our entire organism, including our minds. It is possible that exercise has a more profound effect upon the organism than any other single Hygienic factor.