Sunday, February 05, 2012

Exercise, the weaker vessels and their 'monthly mortgage'

Here's something that I ran across today while working on another article related to police scandals in 1928.

It may be that our decision to go for an hour-long run this morning in the extreme cold we're experiencing encouraged my interest in this story.

Of course, it might be the London 2012 fever that I'm feeling as well.


Should a Woman Be an Athlete? 

Violent Exertion that Injures Brain and Body


By Sir W. Arbuthnot Lane

Now that the Olympic Games are in full swing the question has arisen as to whether these physical contests are harmful to women. The question as to whether they are harmful to men, too, also arises—though it is apt to be overlooked.

Both questions can be answered in a definite manner.

That excessively violent exercise and maintained effort, such as is exhibited in athletic contests in general and the Olympic Games in particular, is most detrimental to human health is a well-recognised fact in medicine.


But the general public, if they realise at all that over-exertion is damaging, certainly do not realise how remarkably injurious it can be.

For it is not inconceivable that a person who persistently overstrained his or her body over a certain period of time might eventually become not only a physical wreck, but also a mental defective.

Outside the circle of those with medical knowledge there are but few who have heard of the interesting experiments in this line conducted by that famous surgeon, Dr. George Crile, of Cleveland, Ohio.

These experiments have proved that excessive physical strain, like severe mental shock, results in a destruction of brain cells—the number of cells destroyed being in proportion to the violence of the exercise or shock.

Moreover, these cells once lost are not replaced. Dr. Crile experimented with all kinds of animals. He raced them into states of exhaustion and subsequently examined their brains. In each case he found that cells had been destroyed in enormous numbers.


... This [the destruction of brain cells] applies equally to men and women, but that women must suffer more is obvious when one considers her distinct physical disadvantages as compared with man. For much of her strength has to be sacrificed to meet her special requirements of reproduction for which she pays a monthly mortgage.

Apart from the fact that the fact that woman is ‘the weaker vessel,’ however, and consequently more easily exhausted than man, there is little reason why violent exercise should harm her any more than it does the stronger sex.

But it must not be forgotten that it does harm the stronger sex. ...


Exercise in moderation is beneficial even essential to the well-being of both sexes, but care must be taken not to overdo it. These international contests are, in the opinion of some medical men, pure folly when they are carried to such a pitch of exhaustion as would appear to be not infrequently the case.

Not only do they impose physical strain, but also mental strain, for nervousness is present in practically every competitor prior to a race and is so great in some cases that some, if they fail to obtain the success they hoped for, break down and become hysterical.

One woman competitor was so affected in the Olympic Games the other day.

It is common knowledge, too, that athletes depreciate physically earlier in life than persons leading a normal existence. ...


Just as excessive physical strain destroys brain cells so will mental shock and persistent mental worry lead to their destruction.

It is a fact that illness, and even death, often follows mental worry because a number of brain cells have been lost and the person affected is consequently not in a fit state to combat disease.

Similarly ‘shell shock’ is due to the destruction of brain cells. ....

If a man or woman will observe moderation in all things—exercise, feeding, etc.—then he or she will be on the path to really good health.

But lack of an essential is as bad as an excess of it. Thus people should not starve themselves, or refrain from taking any exercise, but should take sufficient to meet the requirements of their various occupations and habits. Too little is as bad as too much.

Sunday News, 5 August 1928, p. 8.

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