Fresh Air, Bathing and Other Health Factors
IT goes without saying that an outdoor nation will be infinitely more rugged than a race of people that lives chiefly indoors. We may not be altogether an indoor race, but we are far too much so. Great numbers of people can measure the average amount of time spent daily in the open air in minutes, whereas it should be measured in hours.
Outdoor life is one of the most potent of all factors in maintaining and restoring health. Pure outdoor air has a tonic effect upon the digestion, upon the quality of the blood, upon the nerves, upon the brain and upon the entire organism. Fresh air in large quantities is one of the first essentials to health.
Every one should make it a point, therefore, to spend a certain part of each day in the open air, irrespective of the weather. It is not sufficient to spend fifteen minutes or a half hour out of doors. You should make it two or three hours at the very least, and more if possible. Many people will object that they can not find time for such a purpose, but often it will be found that they devote more than the two or three hours in question to indoor recreation of one kind or another. It is a very simple plan to choose outdoor recreations in place of those taken indoors. Even motoring is commendable because it takes one into the open air.
The practice of bathing is one of the marks of civilization, although primitive peoples instinctively take to the water when they have the opportunity through pure enjoyment of the bath. Bathing has two functions. It serves as a means of cleanliness and as a tonic.
Cold baths may be said to be chiefly tonic in their influence. They are stimulating. They have a pronounced effect upon the circulation, and may be useful in strengthening the heart. They have, however, very little cleansing value, unless used in combination with plenty of soap.
A cold bath offers an ideal means of waking one up and toning up the nervous system, as well as arousing or stimulating an active circulation. In this respect it may supplement any exercise that one may take each morning. The cold bath should always follow the exercises which warm one up to such a degree that the sensation of the cold water upon the skin is a pleasure.
The benefit of a cold bath may be measured in a general way by the pleasure one finds in it. If the bath is something in the nature of an ordeal, if one dreads it and feels thoroughly chilled both during and after the experience, then it can not be of any value. To those who are of too frail a constitution to be able to react or recuperate from a cold bath, it can not be recommended. It is absolutely necessary that one should react with the feeling of warmth and comfort immediately after.
Unless you arc fairly rugged, therefore, do not attempt a cold bath except when you feel thoroughly warm, and can take it in a warm room. See that your hands and feet arc not cold. Preliminary exercise is usually desirable for the sake of insuring thorough warmth. Following a hot bath also one is naturally disposed to enjoy cold water and a quick cold sponging or shower is usually desirable at such a time to close the pores.
A cold tub or cold shower will offer a rather strenuous form of cold bathing. If you are not vigorous enough for such measures, then try a sponge bath, if necessary, sponging only one part of the body at a time. A fairly good plan, if your recuperative powers are weak, is to take a preliminary hot foot bath, or to stand with the feet in hot water while taking a cold sponge. Do not try to use water that is too cold in the beginning. Use water of a moderate temperature at first and gradually accustom yourself to a colder bath. You will find it a delightful tonic when you have once hardened your body in such a way that you can thoroughly enjoy it.
A warm bath in soap and water is valuable not only for cleanliness, but for its quieting and soothing effect upon the nerves. A hot bath, in which classification may be placed any bath from 102 degrees up to 110 degrees, is very effective for breaking up a cold and for eliminating poisons from the system, in kidney trouble and various other diseases. A cabinet steam bath, or dry hot-air bath, will, to a large extent, serve the same purpose as a regular Turkish bath, but if a cabinet is unavailable an improvised Turkish bath may be arranged by means of a hot foot bath taken in a warm room while wrapped in blankets. Drinking hot water or hot lemonade will help. The hot water bath will, however, answer just as well in many cases and is far more convenient. It is best to use a bath thermometer so that you can determine the temperature beforehand.
Air baths and sun baths are tonics of no small value, especially so far as the nervous system is concerned. Modern methods of clothing tend too much to smother the skin. Let your skin breathe. An air bath of half an hour or longer before going to bed, or at any other time of the day that may be convenient, will have a tonic effect upon the entire nervous system, besides stimulating the activity of the pores. The same is even more true of a sun bath. A little sunshine each day is almost a necessity. It may be said, however, that those of exceedingly fair skin should be careful not to expose themselves too much to the noonday sun in midsummer. The rays of the sun may be as harmful to blondes as they are beneficial to others.
A dry friction rub constitutes another very stimulating and refreshing form of dry bathing. This may be applied either with soft flesh brushes, a rough Turkish towel, or by vigorous rubbing of the entire body with the bare hands. Five minutes of this will have a splendid tonic effect, improving the circulation and also the smoothness and texture of the skin.
The condition of the skin and the care of the skin are important because this wonderful covering of the body is not merely an external coating, but an organ with very important functions. The skin constitutes one of the channels of elimination. Its health and activity are necessary to keep the blood pure. It is related to the nervous system in a most important way; our sense of touch is dependent upon its millions of infinitesimal nerve endings. Through the power of contraction or relaxation of this wonderful surface of the body, the circulation is controlled and the body enabled to adapt itself to the varying changes of the temperature. It will be seen, therefore, how and why the care of the skin is important.
For all these reasons the clothing that we wear has a decided effect upon the general health. The more porous it is, admitting the free circulation of air upon the surface of the body, the more satisfactory and healthful it will be found. Avoid tightly woven or air-tight garments. They do not permit of the "ventilation" of the skin. The loosely woven fabrics are also much warmer.
A very good general rule is never to wear any more clothing than is absolutely necessary. This does not mean that in severe winter weather one should go about in a chilled condition. It is better, however, to depend upon a good circulation for warmth than upon excessive clothing, or bed covering. In summer, the more nearly your clothing enables you to enjoy a continuous air bath the better.
Open-mesh linen or cotton underwear is especially recommended for summer. For those who work indoors heavy underwear is probably undesirable at any time of year, for the reason that homes and offices are usually heated to a summer temperature. Comfort outdoors should be secured by using sweaters, gaiters and overcoats.
Another factor in clothing of some importance and interest is the question of color. Black and dark-colored fabrics shut out the light, whereas white, tan, light gray and other light-colored goods permit the light to penetrate, thus giving one a light bath, so to speak, when in the sunshine. Light-colored clothes are superior for summer wear for the additional reason that they are cool. White and light-colored materials reflect the heat and transmit the light. Dark-colored clothes absorb the heat, but do not transmit the light. Black clothing in the sunshine is very hot indeed. It may be advantageous in winter for this reason. Some students of this and allied health problems have adopted the practice of wearing tan-colored or other light clothing the year round, holding that even during the evening the body receives some benefit from the electric light-rays.