It's More Fun to Be Fit
By Gene Tunney
Commander, U. S. N. R.
PHYSICAL flabbiness has always seemed to me a criminal, even sacrilegious abuse of that wonderful instrument, the human body. Ever since boyhood I've made a religion of keeping in shape by regular, conscientious exercise. Adhering to a high ideal of stamina and endurance has paid me dividends not only in the prize ring but in the almost equally grueling struggle of everyday life.
To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise. I don't recommend that you develop bulging biceps or go in for exhausting roadwork and bag-punching. But I do say that, if you will regularly devote 15 minutes a day, preferably before breakfast, for 60 days to the simple set of exercises that I devised for conditioning men in the Navy, you will enjoy increased physical buoyancy and mental vigor. Perform them faithfully and you can take puffy inches off your waistline, recondition unused muscles, feel better, work better and live longer.
The man who has allowed his body to deteriorate cuts a pitiful figure - chest collapsed, stomach protruding. His sagging diaphragm forces his visceral apparatus out of place, hindering digestive and eliminative processes. He tires easily and complains that he feels like the breaking up of a hard winter.
The first thing this human mealsack must learn is proper posture, the basis of all physical conditioning. "Head up, chin in, chest out, stomach in." Proper body carriage conserves the energy that postural defects drain away.
The worst of these defects is the protruding paunch caused by abdominal muscles that have become flabby through disuse. There are broad bands of muscle-like cinch straps around your waistline, whose job is to hold the stomach, intestines and liver in place. When these muscles lose their firmness or "tone," they allow the intestines to sink down and become impaired in function. Indigestion, headaches, constipation and chronic fatigue follow.
To toughen the abdominal muscles, I developed exercise No. 1. If you perform it 20 times every morning, gradually working up to 50, you'll get rid of that paunch and the evils that accompany it. Remember that it's never too late to start rehabilitating broken-down muscles. The material is there, waiting for you to begin working on it.
Another deformity of posture is the flat, sunken chest, which occurs when we persistently neglect to use full lung capacity. We can get along on only 20 percent of our lung capacity, but that dragging sort of existence is a poor substitute for the vitality we enjoy when the twin bellows of our lungs are taking in great drafts of oxygen. As Dr. George Crile said, "Oxidization is the only source of animal energy. We live in proportion to the oxygen we get into our lungs."
A concave chest means that your diaphragm is sagging. This elastic wall of muscle, the partition between your abdomen and chest, forms the major part of the bellows mechanism used in breathing. If the diaphragm sags, the bellows won't work properly and you don't get as much oxygen as you need. According to Dr. Herman N. Bundesen of Chicago, a sagging diaphragm may to a stroke of coronary thrombosis. He explains that an insufficient supply of oxygen slows down heart action; the blood flow becomes sluggish; a blood clot may form and clog the coronary artery of the heart, stoppering it like a cork.
Exercises Nos. 1, 2 and 3 will strengthen and put new resiliency into the diaphragm, and draw blood-purifying oxygen into every recess of the lungs. But the job isn't done when the exercise period is over. Keep your chest out and keep your stomach in, until it becomes a habit. At the end of a month you will have doubled your lung capacity, and thereby benefited every cell of your body.
Many people complain of a chronic weariness that sleep will not banish. Their trouble is that too little blood is pumped through the body per minute; this sluggishness, permitting poisonous waste matter to accumulate in every cell, clogs the channels of energy.
Sinking into an overstuffed armchair is not the cure. You must speed up your circulation. The only way to do this is to exercise. A brisk 20-minute walk will send 25 to 30 quarts of blood coursing vigorously through your arteries every 60 seconds - blood that contains four times more oxygen than when you loll in a chair.
While walking, inhale deeply for six paces, holding the breath, then exhale slowly. Do this ten or 15 times during your walk. Like a cleansing torrent, the increased circulation and fresh oxygen will sweep away stagnant, toxic impurities - and your tired feeling.
In youth, we get plenty of exercise through games and running around, but as middle life approaches, we settle down, literally and figuratively. Muscles, that formerly were lean and resilient become slack overlaid with fat. Fat is one of the chief enemies of the heart because it has to be plentifully supplied with blood and thus needlessly increases the pumping load that the heart must sustain. The less superfluous lard that you carry around with you, the easier job your heart has. The useless burden carried to a degree by every overweight man and woman is a principal factor in premature death.
If you are accumulating pads of fat around hips and abdomen, or if your once-lean arm and leg muscles are becoming suety, you must decrease your intake of starches and fats, and take regular exercise. Not violent week-ends of golf and tennis or sporadic outbursts of squash, but a daily drill that becomes as much a part of your life as brushing your teeth. The six exercises shown here, if performed every morning on rising, will not only strengthen the diaphragm and lungs but will also take off a pound a week.
Exercise should be regarded as tribute to the heart. This marvelous organ - which is a tough bundle of muscles - thrives on a good workout, and no person free of organic heart trouble need fear that exercise will strain it. More hearts have failed from flabby degeneration than from overexercise. If you're in doubt about the advisability of exercising regularly, see your family doctor and have him check you over.
You can buy substitutes for exercise in any drugstore - headache powders, antacids, laxatives, pick-me-ups - which promise to confer priceless blessings. But you need never buy them again. You will not need the false stimulation of benzedrine or the pain-killing effects of aspirin; you can shake off your dependence on habit-forming laxatives and overcome the acid torments of heartburn if you spend 15 minutes every day in exercise.
Today exercise is a voluntary effort that all civilized men and women should make toward physical perfection - a quickening, cleansing discipline that does for the body what prayer does for the spirit. Stimulated by it, our life-flame burns with a clearer ray; nothing seems hopeless or impossible, and we are charged with the joy of being wholly alive.
Copyright 1942 by The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (February 1942 issue)