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The Strenuous Life and Its Effects in Disease

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JAMA

June 21, 2016

At the outset I desire to state that I am not opposed to the strenuous life when it is safeguarded by proper diversion and sufficient rest; but there is a wrong way to live the strenuous life, and it is of this I desire to speak. Work, per se, never kills, but it is the way one works.… Mental and physical exercise in legitimate channels is good. It promotes health, happiness and a long life, but when by prolonged endeavor under high pressure an individual overdraws his supply of energy he must replenish it or suffer the consequence. The temperate life, the systematic methods of diversion and relaxation as practiced by Mr. Gladstone, the great English statesman, and Grover Cleveland, twice president of the United States, is well known and will serve to illustrate the proper way to live the strenuous life and to succeed without sacrificing health and strength. Mr. Gladstone not only had regular times for diversion and recreation, but when the affairs of state became too onerous and tiresome he would turn loose all duties and go to his country home to rest. There he would walk, run, chop wood and do other exercises to divert the mind and to invigorate the body.… We are all familiar with Mr. Cleveland’s fondness for fishing and hunting, and remember while he was president how often he would lay aside official duties and go to the bays of Virginia or North Carolina to indulge in his favorite sport.… The quality of a man’s thought, energy and ideals depends largely on the condition of his health. The now famous saying credited to Dr. Osler that a man is practically useless after 60 years of age is true of most men, but it should not be, and would not be, if we would remember that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Every busy man should have a hobby to which he can devote his leisure; he should also have seasons for sport in the country, like hunting and fishing. A married man should spend more time with his family and in reading wholesome literature. Sunday, the best day of all for rest and recreation, is perhaps the most neglected.…

HIGH PRESSURE OF EDUCATION

S. T. Rucker, M.D

The physiologic functions of the human economy are governed by the simple law of demand and supply. The executor of this law is the cell. It contains a life principle called the nucleus. The nucleus gives the cells energy and the power to reproduce themselves rapidly and manifold, when supplied with the proper food, as found in the healthy blood current.… By thought and muscular action tissues are consumed; by cell proliferation they are replenished. In order that the proper equilibrium be maintained in this process and the cells be not consumed faster than they multiply, it is decreed that we must take time to eat, rest and sleep. Prolonged endeavor, overwork and worry, with insufficient food and rest, break the equilibrium, exhaust vitality and invite disease. This condition is too prevalent in our American life.… Our schools and colleges, where we should be taught how to live, are not free from this spirit of stress and strain. Students are goaded to tasks beyond their powers, and, being anxious to stand at the head of their classes, they hurry their meals, overstudy, take little time for rest and, as a natural consequence, many become nervous wrecks.…

BUSINESS LIFE TOO STRENUOUS

In business and professional life the conditions are even worse. The average business man is always worried and overworked. He has no leisure. He sees so little of his family they scarcely know him. He is chained to commercialism of thought and taste. He worships it by day and dreams of it by night.… He is no longer in control. He thinks in a circle and acts like an automaton. He is a slave to his business and can’t turn loose—until perhaps he is released by sudden death or is sent to a sanitarium, broken in health, to die without enjoying the pleasures of a long life that is due him.

A striking coincidence is that as our strenuous civilization progresses the number of cases of mental and nervous diseases increases. There is hardly a state institution that is not overcrowded.… Nervous breakdown has been called our national disease, and not without good reason. Arteriosclerosis, a disease largely due to nervous strain and hyperarterial tension, formerly a rare disease, is now prominently and extensively treated of in leading text-books on practice.

Another striking illustration of the effect of our strenuous civilization in producing disease is the rapid increase in the number of deaths from heart disease. One hundred and twenty-five persons died recently in one week in New York City from heart disease, while the deaths for the corresponding week in 1904 were 56.…

… The stress and strain, worry and anxiety attendant on fierce competition in business and professional life is enervating and devitalizing.… As a consequence we fall easy victims to almost any disease, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, cancer and grave kidney lesions.…

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