MAN can live without food easily, and sometimes even with great advantage, for a fortnight. Some have cured themselves of serious diseases by fasting much longer. More important still than food is water, without which man cannot get along for more than a few days. The most important, however, of all the food-stuffs is air, without which man cannot live for more than a few minutes.
One fifth of the atmosphere consists of oxygen. It constitutes eight-ninth of water and half of the weight of all the mountains. Not less than 70.8 per cent, of the human body is made up of it. Life is a process of combustion. It is by oxygen that we live. Though the flame is unseen, we live by its heat.
The ordinary air contains 21 per cent. of oxygen. This amount is more than is needed in ordinary respiration, which requires only 14 per cent; but during violent exercise a considerably increased consumption of oxygen occurs, which shows that the extra 7 per cent. which the air contains is a factor of safety to provide for emergencies. A slowing down of the circulation of the blood so that the carbon dioxide is not thrown off and the oxygen is not taken in with sufficient rapidity, makes the body suffer air- hunger.
Air-hunger is a phenomenon that occurs far more frequently in modern civilized life than most people would believe. The nerves and the nerve-centres are the parts of our system which suffer most in consequence.
At a meeting of German neutralists and medical men in 1901, the late Professor Max Verworm, one of the foremost scientists of his time, announced that he had come to the conclusion that in consequence of over-exertion there is induced a toxaemia to which excess of carbon dioxide in the tissues largely contributes. He explained the sense of exertion after laborious work by the theory that the available oxygen which is normally stored up in the nerve centres had been largely consumed.
Dr. Alexander V. de Poehl, present at the same meeting, gave expression to a similar opinion. “Whenever internal respiration is diminished,” he said “lactic acid and other acids are not sufficiently oxidized: they accumulate and act both as local and general poisons . A sense of undue fatigue is removed by breathing fresh air”.
Breathing the motionless, polluted atmosphere indoors has exactly the same effects as has also the breathing of the air in the streets of our modern cities, laden as it is with impurities and poisonous gases, especially from motor cars. In consequences modern civilized man often suffers from air-hunger, which causes various bodily and mental symptoms as for instance, sickness, liverishness, feeling of undue fatigue, headache, depression, irritability, etc.
Most of these symptoms can be easily dispelled by the re- charging of the system with oxygen by the breathing of fresh air in a garden or a park, or, better still, by a brisk walk or gentle running in open country.
The amount of oxygen in our body is never constant. It varies with the varying condition to which modern man exposes himself, and also with his intake of various foods and his daily habits in general.
Just as the air contains a reserve of 7 per cent. of oxygen over and above the bodys usual requirement, namely 14 per cent., so our body is also endowed with a great ability of storing up oxygen in reserve in most of its tissues and nerve-centres, and especially in the plasma or the liquid part of the blood.
The amount of oxygen which the plasma contains is usually small, only about one-fortieth of that found in the red cells, but by breathing pure oxygen it may be increased to as much as even times the normal amount. By brisk walks and running in pure air we actually make the plasma store up a reserve of oxygen.
Dr. Vernon found that he could hold his breath for the extraordinary time of 8 minutes 13 seconds after forced breathing and oxygen inhalations.
This ability of the body to store up oxygen has been corroborated by a series of interesting experiments. Mr. Just, a well known runner, was given oxygen inhalations immediately before a test and succeeded in beating his previous record for half a mile. He declared: “While running I felt extremely light on my feet, running for the most part with very little exertion. A remarkable fact was that after a hard run. They were so supple and springy as if I had not run at all.
Even though I had to run much within a very short space of time I did not feel in the least tired. I travelled so easily that the pace seemed much slower than it really was, and even sprinting, which usually tries me very much, seemed quite easy, although I had just run a half and a quarter mile.
Similar experiments were made with Wolffe, the channel swimmer, on one of his attempts to swim the channel. When thoroughly exhausted and talking of coming out and giving up the attempt he was made to inhale oxygen which disappeared with an amazing rapidity and completeness from the bag into his lungs. The effect was immediate. Breathing became slower and less distressed. After a few minutes he pegged away again in workman like fashion just as fresh as when he started.
One of the surest signs of oxygen hunger is yawning, stretching of the limbs, feeling sluggish, dull and heavy. All these symptoms can be made to disappear in a few minutes by oxygen- inhalation, by forced breathing or by a few minutes running. But what is of still greater importance, they can be prevented by long, brisk morning walks combined with a few minutes running before breakfast.
No exercise later in the day has the same effect upon the system as morning exercise on an empty stomach before breakfast. It acts as an incinerator, burning up residues of food in the alimentary canal from meals of the previous day and waste products in all parts of the body. It tests all the muscles and our breathing apparatus, bringing a blood-stream loaded with oxygen to every tiny little cell, at the same time emptying and removing the contents of their ” dust-bins”.
It oxygenates the whole system and lays up a store of oxygen in reserve for the whole day, especially in the nerve-centres and the plasma of the blood. In one word, it vitalizes the whole system and supplies our mind and physique with a reserve of energy to draw upon, by means of which we are more able to meet all the demands made upon our mental and physical strength during the day.
If the juice of an orange and of half a lemon mixed in a pint of cold water in the summer and luke-warm in the winter be taken at once on awakening instead of the usual coffee or tea, which should be rigorously excluded, the effect of this morning exercise will be further enhanced. Upon daily measures of this kind hand the well being and ultimate fate of human beings to an unbelievable extent.