Health, according to the dictionaries, is a feeling of well-being. That was the old definition! The modem definition of health says that you must not only feel all right but also that you must not be aware of any pain or irritation anywhere in your body. Moreover, you must have what the quacks used to call vim, vigor and vitality-a feeling of positive health. You must have the desire to be up and doing. You must be free from fatigue. You must not get tired easily.
Once we thought that we could give people a lot of simple rules for keeping their bodies in health. Now we have learned so much more about the nature of disease that the rules have become complicated. Doctors used to say that you could take three or four meals a day and that this would take care of your needs as far as health was concerned. The list included breakfast at 8 o’clock, dinner or lunch at noon, perhaps a supplement in the form of tea or a little snack around 4: 30 in the afternoon, and then supper or dinner about 7: 30. Nowadays we know that some people do even better on six small meals a day; others seem to be quite healthful with just a light lunch but with a fairly good breakfast and not too large a dinner. We are so individual in our construction and in our constitutions that it is impossible to put down a rule for positive patterns of eating or amounts of eating that will apply to all people.
The same considerations apply to rest and sleep. Some people need more rest and more sleep than do others. Some are able to get along quite satisfactorily on six hours; others seem to require as much as ten or twelve hours of sleep to be at their best during the waking hours. Eight hours of sleep might be put down as an average, with recognition, however, that some are above and others below the average.
The hygienists used to say that everyone ought to have at least a quart of water a day, recommending eight glasses-one before breakfast, one between each meal, one at each meal and one before going to bed. Nowadays we know that our appetites and our sense of thirst may be a reasonable indication of what we ought to have in the way of fluids. One health expert recommended three pints of water daily, indicating, however, that it could be taken in tea, coffee, cocoa, milk, soup or some other liquid. Pure water is an excellent drink, as is milk. When you take a beverage that is rich in nourishment as, for instance, beer, the nourishment must be counted in the daily intake as well as the fluid.
Food is not just bulk but includes also such specific constituents as protein, carbohydrates and fats, mineral salts and vitamins. The National Research Council, through its Food and Nutrition Board, has compiled a list of basic foods that everyone ought to have every day and on which he may build the remainder of his diet.
Why do we exercise? Among other reasons, exercise improves the power and tone of the muscles. It helps the blood by increasing the amount of oxygen that is carried by the coloring matter of the red blood cells. It stimulates the circulation, thus making certain that all of the tissues receive the proper amounts of oxygen and also that waste products are carried away. Exercise also provides relaxation because it is a pleasant undertaking if performed under proper circumstances. People who take competition too seriously and who disturb their nervous systems and fail to relax during exercise are not helped, but may well be injured by the wrong kind of exercise. Finally, those who exercise to the point of exhaustion find that recovery is somewhat slow; for them over-exercise has proved just as harmful or perhaps more harmful than would be no exercise at all.
The human body is a self-regulating mechanism. Ordinarily, elimination of waste material from the bowel and the bladder goes on without much attention from the person concerned. There is no absolute rule about elimination from the bowel. Doctors say once daily is average but some people go much longer and others go much more frequently, and both may be quite within the range of what is normal for them.
Even bathing may be carried to excess. Some people develop an absolute obsession about cleanliness. They will rush to wash their hands at the slightest sign of soiling. These people, in many instances, need examination from a psychological point of view. Some people indulge in bathing to a point at which they become a nuisance not only to themselves but to the rest of the family. They soak long hours in the tub, and end with fatigue. A bath that is too hot leaves a person gasping; a bath that is too cold may shock the entire heat—regulating mechanism of the body. All sorts of specialized baths, such as steam baths, salt water baths, carbon dioxide baths and similar ablutions are recommended for special purposes; but like every other specialty they need to be prescribed for the individual for certain specific purposes and when not so regulated may do harm.
One of the first books on hygiene designed to keep people in health was the Bible. The rules there set forth as to rest and relaxation and mental attitude and diet were all designed for people of a certain period. Modem conditions have brought new points of view. Thus the day of rest varies among different races of people and among various religions. Similarly attitudes toward food vary with various races and religions. Scientific study has shown that it is not so much exactly what you do in this regard as observance of the need for regular periods of rest to permit recovery of the tired tissues. The diet should be free from infectious material and visible dirt. The point of view toward life must be moderate and temperate.
In the Middle Ages the School of Salerno developed a book called “The Regimen of the School of Salerno”. The chief emphasis in that guide to health and hygiene was moderation in all things. Any modem book of advice on health has to begin with the same general admonition: Be moderate in everything-moderate in food, in drink, in work, in thought and, particularly, in temper.
Nowadays we give much more consideration to the way in which anger, agitation, worry or excitement may seriously damage the functioning of various portions of the body. A contented mind is an essential to a healthful body.