Personally I think one of the most extreme jobs on the face of the planet is that of an office worker. Extreme because it requires the human body to do the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. The human body was intended to move.
For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, movement was life. They were a nomadic people who were pretty much constantly in motion. In his TED Talk The Real Reason for Brains, Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert explains that the brain didn’t evolve for the purposes of thinking or feeling, it predominantly evolved to control movement. Living creatures that need to move in order to survive have brains, living creatures who don’t need to move in order to survive don’t have brains, such as trees and plants for example.
So what happens when we drastically change our lifestyles away from how our ancestors lived and we start spending most of our time being sedentary, which means not performing very much physical activity? Well, our bodies adapt. Just like the body of someone who starts working out will adapt by developing stronger muscles, bones and connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments, so will the body of the office worker who sits for hours on end without much physical activity. Except their body won’t become stronger and more robust. Instead the exact opposite will happen. Their muscles, bones and connective tissues will become weaker and more fragile. Certain muscles such as the chest, lats, hip flexors, hamstrings and neck extensors will become tighter because of their shortened position from sitting all day. Their posture will deviate away from optimal alignment leading to aches and pains. Their eyesight may become affected from constantly staring at a screen with artificial light only a few inches away from their face. Their heart and lungs become less efficient leading to less oxygen and nutrients getting to the brain and muscles.
Now this might all sound awful but remember, office workers are perfectly adapted to their environments. If all your environment requires from you is to sit still, then that’s exactly how your body is going to adapt! The body is smart and it’s only going to use what it needs. If you’re not taking your muscles and joints through full ranges of motion then your body will shorten those muscles. If you’re not overloading your muscles and other tissues by lifting heavy objects, then your body will decrease the amount of muscle and other tissues needed to perform those kinds of tasks. If you never perform higher intensity activity that gets your heart rate up and expands your lungs for deeper breathing, then you’ll lose those capabilities. Any ability that we have the capacity for will be adapted away if we’re not using it.
So what should people do if they want to maintain as much of their natural physical capabilities as possible without having to quit their office job? Well, there are things people can do even in the office setting to ensure they are not adapting toward a less fit and more fragile state. This article by GMB entitled How to Move More at Your Day Job: A 15 Step Guide to Better Mobility for Cubicle Dwellers gives some practical suggestions for maintaining your mobility while at work. Start incorporating these simple steps into your daily routine as well as getting to the gym on a regular basis and you won’t suffer from working one of the most extreme jobs on the face of the planet.
Besides being a regular contributor to the Function Health Club blog, Jeff Doyle is also the co-owner of Function Health Club as well as a Personal Trainer, BCRPA Trainer of Fitness Leaders, Agatsu Kettlebell Instructor and Older Adult Wellness Practitioner. He also has a Bachelor of Human Kinetics. You can contact Jeff directly at jeff@FunctionHandF.com.