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Waste of Vitality by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

From, Maids Wives and Bachelors

If we come to reflect upon it, in middle age we find that the one great cause of departure from the ideal in real life is our liability to take cold. Almost all our pleasures are bound up with this probability, for when we have taken cold we are far too stupid either to give or enjoy pleasure. And there is no philosophy connected with colds. Serious illnesses are full of instruction and resignation, but who thinks of being resigned to a cold, or of making a profitable use of it?

“Chilly” is a word that of late years has come to be a frequent and pitiably significant one on the lips of the middle-aged. They have a terror of the frost and snow which they once enjoyed so keenly, and they really suffer much more than they will allow themselves to confess.

The most invigorating and inspiriting of all climates is 64°, but if the glass fall to 50°, chilly people are miserable; they feel draughts everywhere, especially on the face, and very likely the first symptoms of a neuralgic attack. At 40°—which must have been the in-door winter temperature of our forefathers—they become irritable and shivery, and lose all energy. If the temperature fall below 30°, they “take cold,” and exhibit all the mental inertia and many of the physical symptoms of influenza, which nevertheless has not attacked them.

Let us at once admit a truth: the young and robust despise the chilly for their chilliness, for there is such a thing as physical pride, and a very unpleasant thing it is in families. These physical Pharisees are always recommending the “roughing” and “hardening” process, and they would gladly revive for the poor invalid the cold-water torture of the past.

Without being conscious of it, they are cruel. Chilly people are not made better by the unsympathetic remarks of those of quicker blood. There is no good in assuring them that the cold is healthy and seasonable. They feel keenly the half-joking imputation of “cosseting,” though perhaps they are too inert and miserable to defend themselves.

Strong walking exercise is the remedy always proposed. Many cannot take it. Others make a laudable effort to follow the prescription, and perhaps during it feel a glow of warmth to which in the house—though the house is thoroughly warmed—they are strangers. But half an hour after their return home the tide of life has receded again, and they are as chilly and nervous as before.

Nevertheless, they have passed through an experience which, if they would consider it, indicates their relief, if not their cure. While out-of-doors they thought it necessary to cover their feet with warm hosiery and thick boots, the head with a bonnet and veil, their hands with gloves and a fur muff, their body with some fur or wadded garment half an inch thick. In short, when they went out they imitated Nature, and protected themselves as she does animals.

But just as soon as they return home they uncover their head and hands, replace the warm, heavy clothing of the feet with some of a more elegant but far colder quality, and take off altogether the thick warm garments worn out-of-doors. A bear that should follow the same course when it went home to its snug subterranean den would naturally enough die of some pulmonary disease. Nations which are subjected to long and severe winters have learned the more natural and excellent way. The Laplander keeps on his fur, the Russian his wadded garment, the Tartar his sheep-skin, the Shetlander goes about in his house in his wadmal. It is only in our high state of civilization that men and women divest themselves of half their clothing with the thermometer below zero, and then run to the fire to warm their freezing hands and feet.

If warm clothing protects us out of the house, it will do the same in the house; and it is no more “coddling,” and much more sensible and satisfactory than cowering over a grate. Under the head-dress a silk skullcap is a most effective protection against draughts, and would prevent many an attack of neuralgia. A silk or wash-leather vest will keep the body at a more equable temperature than the best fire. A shawl to most middle-aged ladies is a graceful toilet adjunct even in the house, and it is capable of retaining as well as of imparting much warmth. When very chilly after removal of outside wraps, or from any other cause, try a wadded dressing-gown over the usual clothing. In five minutes the added comfort will be recognized.

The secret is, then, to keep the body at its proper temperature in the house by the adoption of sufficient warm clothing, instead of trusting to artificially heated atmosphere. No one will be more liable to take cold out of the house because she has been warm in the house. There is no more sense in shivering in-doors in order to prepare the body to endure the out-door climate than there would be in sleeping with too few blankets for fear of increasing the sense of cold when out of bed.

A stuffy room, with air constantly heated to 75°, is the most efficacious invention ever devised for ruining health. But it is equally true that habitual warmth is the very best preserver of constitutional strength in middle and old age; and undoubtedly this is best maintained by a temperature of 68° and plenty of clothing.

A very important aid to warmth is a proper diet. Many women who suffer continually from a sense of chill, below the tide of healthy life, have yet constantly at hand an abundance of nourishing food. But they eat one day at one hour, the next at another; they don't care what they eat, and take anything a flippant-minded cook chooses to send them; they wait for some one when themselves hungry, out of mere domestic courtesy; and when their husbands are from home they take tea and biscuits because it is not worth while giving servants the trouble of cooking for them alone. In all these and many similar ways vitality is continually lost, and with every loss of vitality there is a corresponding access of slow, chilly, shivering inertia.

It is a great mistake that women are taught from childhood that it is meritorious in their sex to conceal their own wants, and to postpone their own convenience to that of fathers, brothers, husbands, and even servants. For in the end they break down, and are left in a state of ill health in which all the wheels of life run slow. The trouble, in a sentence, is that women have no wives—no one to remind them when they are in a draught, or come in with wet feet, no one to get them a warm drink when chilly, and ward off the little ills (which soon become great ones) by loving, thoughtful, constant care and attention.

All women know how hard it is to live the usual life of work and amusement in a physical condition of far below the requisite strength. Nothing induces this condition like chronic chill. In it no vitality can be gained, and very much may be continually lost. Therefore every plan should be tried which promises to raise the temperature to a healthy standard. Try the effect of a room heated to 68°, and plenty of warm, constantly warm clothing.


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