This fact that a girl’s brain does not react is proved in many ways. Most of the women who come to nerve specialists seem to feel that they are to sit still and be cured, while the men who come respond and do their part much more intelligently—the result being that men get out of “nerves” in half the time and stay out, whereas girls often get out a little way and slump (literally slump) back again before they can be helped to respond truly enough to get well and keep themselves well. This information is given only with an idea of stirring girls up to their best possibilites, for there is not a woman born with a sound mind who is not capable of reacting mentally, in a greater or less degree, to all that she hears, provided she uses her will consciously to form the new habit.
Now this need of intelligent reaction is just the trouble with girls and physical culture. Physical culture should be a means to an end—and that is all, absolutely all. It is delightful and strengthening when it is taught thoughtfully as a means to an end, and I might almost say it is only weakening when it is made an end in itself.
Girls need to react intelligently to what is given them in physical training as much as to what is given them in a lecture on literature or philosophy or botany. How many girls do we know who take physical culture in a class, often simply because it is popular at the time, and never think of taking a long walk in the country—never think of going in for a vigorous outdoor game? How many girls do we know who take physical culture and never think of making life easy for their stomachs, or seeing that they get a normal amount of sleep? Exercise in the fresh air, with a hearty objective interest in all that is going on about us, is the very best sort of exercise that we can take, and physical culture is worse than nothing if it is not taken only as a means to enable us to do more in the open air, and do it better, and gain from it more life.
There is one girl who comes to my mind of whom I should like to tell because she illustrates truly a point that we cannot consider too carefully. She went to a nerve specialist very much broken in health, and when asked if she took plenty of exercise in the open air she replied “Yes, indeed.” And it was proved to be the very best exercise. She had a good horse, and she rode well; she rode a great deal, and not too much. She had interesting dogs and she took them with her. She walked, too, in beautiful country. But she was carrying in her mind all the time extreme resistance to other circumstances of her life. She did not know how to drop the resistance or face the circumstances, and the mental strain in which she held herself day and night, waking or sleeping, prevented the outdoor exercise from really refreshing her. When she learned to face the circumstances then the exercise could do its good work.
On the other hand, there are many forms of nervous resistance and many disagreeable moods which good, vigorous exercise will blow away entirely, leaving our minds so clear that we wonder at ourselves, and wonder that we could ever have had those morbid thoughts.