Physical Heath by Dio Lewis


The great war will end. Then what magnificent expansion! But what immense responsibilities! Soon they must rest upon you,—your manhood and womanhood. God and the nations will watch you.

A great and good nation is made up of great and good men and women. A strong building cannot be made of weak timbers.

A complete man is composed of a healthy body, a cultured brain, and a true heart. Wanting either he fails. Is his heart false? His strong head and body become instruments of evil. Is his head weak? His strong body and true heart are cheated. Is the body sick? His noble head and heart are like a great engine in a rickety boat.

Our Young Folks are strong and good.

I have studied the life of the young among the better peoples of Europe. It is not flattery to say, that you, my young fellow-countrymen, have the best heads and hearts in the world. The great size of your brains is noticed by every intelligent stranger. The ceaseless activity of those brains is one of the most striking features of American life. American growth, as seen in railways, telegraphs, and agriculture, is tame and slow when compared with the achievements of our schools. And where else among the young are there such organizations for the spread of the Gospel, for temperance, for the relief of the sick and wounded?

But our Young Folks are weak.

Fig. 1 John. Fig. 2 Thomas. Your weakness is in your bodies. Here lies your danger. I see nothing which distresses me so much as the physique of the children in our public schools. Great heads, beautiful faces, brilliant eyes; but with that attenuated neck, thin, flat chest, and languid gait. Look at these two boys, John and Thomas. John is a native Yankee. I found him, without long searching, in one of our public schools. Thomas is an imaginary boy, composed by the artist.
Fig. 1 John.                        Fig. 2 Thomas.

Causes of John's Deformity.

He has lain several hours every night in the position seen in Fig. 3. Much of that ugly pushing forward of the head among girls is produced by thick pillows. Fig. 3 Fig. 3
Young people should sleep on hair pillows two inches thick. Ambitious girls and boys throw the pillow aside. This is the other extreme, and wrong. It is unhealthy to lie constantly on the back. You must frequently change to the side. But when you turn upon the side, if you have no pillow, you must either twist the shoulders into a mischievous attitude, or let the head fall down to the level of the shoulder, as seen in Fig. 4. This disturbs the circulation in the neck. Fig. 4 Fig. 4

False Positions while sitting.

Another cause of the bad shape of John's spine we find in his bad positions while sitting. Fig. 5 represents the position in which he should sit. You observe his feet rest on the floor. His hips are against the back of the chair. His spine is erect. In this position he may sit two hours without fatigue, provided the chair be a good one. About chairs I shall presently say something.

Fig. 5 Fig. 5 Fig. 6 Fig. 6

Fig. 6 shows a position in which I often see John. Do you observe how, with his legs crossed, he must push forward on the seat? The small of the back is no longer supported. The strain will soon produce weakness and pain.

Fig. 7 represents a still worse position. The strain upon the small of the back must not only produce weakness there, but must soon incline the spine to bend backward, while its natural shape at that point is a beautiful curve forward.

Writers on manners say the positions seen in Figs. 6 and 7 are vulgar. In this case, as in most others, propriety and physiology are in harmony.

Positions in School.

Fig. 8 shows a bad posture. Sitting thus three hours a day must soon produce round shoulders. Various devices have been proposed to help the pupil out of this difficulty. Our booksellers furnish a simple rack, which is shown in Fig. 9. It holds one or two books. In Fig. 10 two books are seen resting upon it. Fig. 11 shows the position of the pupil while using the book-rack. An eminent professor in a New-England college said to the assembled students, the other day, “This book-holder will add years to a literary man's life.”

Fig. 7 Fig. 7 Fig. 8 Fig. 8


I promised a word about chairs. Our manufacturers do not consider health in designing the shape of chairs. The seats are too high, and too nearly horizontal. Boys and girls occupy seats seventeen inches high. A girl twelve years old should have a chair with the seat not more than twelve inches high. For a man even, it should not be more than fifteen or sixteen inches. (These dimensions apply to the front of the seat.) The back part should be at least two inches lower. With this inclination, the sitter will slide backward, against the back of the chair, instead of sliding forward, as he generally does. This sliding forward produces a strain upon the small of the back, and is, in fact, the cause of most of the fatigue in sitting. The width of the chair-seat from front to back should be the same as the height in front.

Fig. 9 Fig. 9 Fig. 10 Fig. 10

The chair-back should project farthest forward at that point which corresponds to the small of the back. Instead of this, there is generally at that point a hollow. This error is the cause of much pain and weakness in the lower part of the spine.

Fig. 12 shows an unphysiological chair. It is a fashionable parlor-chair. Fig. 13 is a physiological chair. Two hours in this will fatigue less than half an hour in that.

Fig. 11 Fig. 11 Fig. 12 Fig. 12 Fig. 13 Fig. 13


Americans are bad walkers. It is rare to find an exception, even in our army. Among Europeans, and the aborigines of our own continent, a noble mien is not uncommon. I understand the causes of this ugly defect, among our people, but my present purpose is simply to call attention to it, and to point out the remedy.

In English and French books on the military drill and physical training, whole chapters discuss the subject of walking. We are told that this or that part of the foot must touch the ground first,—that the angles must be so and so, &c., &c. I will not say this advice is not right, but I will say that very few have been helped by it.

Look at a good walker. Shoulders, head, and hips drawn well back, and the chest thrown forward. What a firm, vigorous tread! Such a walk may easily be secured by carrying a weight upon the head. An iron crown has been devised for this purpose. It consists of three crowns, one within the other, each weighing about nine pounds. One or all three may be worn at a time.

The water-carriers of Southern Europe, although belonging to the lowest class, have a noble bearing. Certain negroes in the South, who “tote” burdens upon the head as a business, can be readily pointed out in a crowd. The effort required to keep the burden directly over the spine so develops the muscles of the back and neck, that in the absence of the burden the head is carried in a noble, erect attitude.

By carrying one of these crowns upon the head half an hour two or three times a day, while walking in the garden or through the halls of the house, one may soon become a fine walker. One tenth of the time occupied in learning a few tunes on the piano, given to this exercise, would insure any girl a noble carriage. The crown is not necessary. Any weight which does not press upon the very crown of the head, but about it, will answer the purpose equally well.

Fig. 14 exhibits John as the photographer took him the first time he wore the crown. You observe how his form is changed.

False Positions while walking, in Schools.

Fig. 15 shows the worst of them. This is no exaggeration of what I have seen in our New-England schools. It is not common among scholars to join the hands thus, and carry the body erect. Fig. 16 shows a still worse position. If you stand erect, with your arms hanging by the sides, and then deliberately fold the arms, as in this figure, you will find the points of the shoulders are drawn forward two inches, and the chest much contracted. Experiments prove that the amount of air which the lungs can inhale is reduced fifteen to eighteen per cent when the arms are thus folded.

Fig. 17 secures a good position of the spine, and opens the chest. Fig. 18 is not very seemly, but, practised five minutes two or three times a day, would do much to develop the muscles of the spine, and particularly those of the back of the neck, whose weakness permits the head to droop. This subject I commend to teachers and school-committees.

Fig. 14, 15 and 16 Fig. 14                        Fig. 15                      Fig. 16

Fig. 17 and 18 Fig. 17                        Fig. 18

The Muff.

It draws the shoulders forward, and produces an ugly gait. Let a boy wear a shawl, and hold it together in front with his hands, and he will have the same disagreeable waddle. If he wears it even for one winter, he will learn to stoop. Muffs, shawls, and those cloaks which do not allow the arms to swing freely, should all be thrown overboard. Over-coats should be worn by both sexes.

The arms are almost as necessary in walking as the legs. The first time you are walking with your arms at liberty, stop moving them and hold them by your sides. You will be surprised to find how soon your companion will leave you behind, although you may hurry, twist, wriggle, and try very hard to keep up. One reason for the slow walk among girls is to be found in this practice of carrying the arms motionless. Three miles an hour with the arms still, is as hard work as four miles with the arms free.

I have seen the queens of the stage walk. I have seen a few girls and women of queenly bearing walk in the street and drawing-room. They moved their arms in a free and graceful manner. Could this habit become universal among girls, their chests would enlarge and their bearing be greatly improved. See that girl walking with both hands in her muff. How she wriggles and twists her shoulders and hips! This is because her arms are pinioned. Give them free swing, and her gait would soon become more graceful.

You have seen pictures of our muscles. Those of the upper part of the body, you remember, spread out from the shoulder, in all directions, like a fan. Now if you hold the shoulder still, the muscles of the chest will shrink, the shoulders stoop, and the whole chest become thin and ugly.

But some girls will say, “Swinging the arms must be very slight exercise.” True, it is very slight, if you swing the arms but once or ten times, but if you swing them ten thousand times in a day, you will obtain more exercise of the muscles of the chest than by all other ordinary movements combined. Indeed, if I were asked what exercise I thought most effective for developing the chests of American girls, I should reply at once, swinging the arms while walking.