My previous post was about sitting’s impact on the body. Sure, we always hear that we need to work out and even Michelle Obama is out there encouraging kids to get moving. But why is not moving enough such a big deal to our human bodies?
First, let’s imagine what our day would be like if we still lived in 25,000 B.C.
The image to the left is a bushman and he and his people live as hunters and gatherers. Before farming developed 2.4 million years ago, and for 84,000 generations, hunting and gathering is what the whole world did. Humans hiked or ran cross country for miles to hunt game while sprinting away from predators themselves, then carried the meat back to camp. They foraged for food, built tools, and set up shelter all by hand. Women often carried their children when they went out foraging. Hunters and gatherers conserved their energy by alternating lighter activity days with more strenuous ones and rested when they needed to rest. It was a life of balance.
As farming practices developed, these bodies that had hunted and gathered for 84,000 generations now began to shift to farming from 10,000 to 2,000 B.C. We were in the Agricultural Era, and it lasted for 350 generations. We still burned many calories, as we spent the majority of our days on our feet, using our upper and lower bodies, and being very active. But still we were technically in a hunter-gatherer body.
Because of our ingenuity and inspiration, we didn’t all stay farmers for long. With the coming of the Industrial Age, we were still relatively active compared to today’s standards, although not quite in the manner for which our bodies were designed. Before you knew it, the computer was invented and into the Digital Age we went, where we’ve sat (literally) for 2 generations…
And we’ve continued to sit here. The point is, we spent a lot of time getting good at running, sprinting, carrying, lifting, and being on the move, all while knowing when to conserve our energy. It’s what allowed us to stay in our chosen “profession” at that time for as long as we did. We have spent two generations doing the opposite of what we have done for millions of years, so it’s no wonder we have the problems we do. If we were designed to sit in a chair for 8-15 hours a day, we certainly would not have these powerful glutes (yes, they are under there!), strong core (that too!), or our amazing capacity for endurance.
There’s a biological term called “form fits function”. What it means is that whatever an organism does determines its size, structure, and shape. Think of a seal’s body. While it does wiggle around on land some of the time, the nature of its body shape truly shines in the water, where it’s speedy and graceful. A frog has webbed feet to help propel it through water. Snakes and lizards have camouflage to protect them from predators and enable them to capture their own food. Dogs have mastered cuteness, so that humans will give them what they want. (Ok, I’m kidding about that last one.) We have legs. We have bodies designed to be on the go. How else could we have survived as we did for millions of years? When you upset a perfect system that has been perfectly adapted to a specific lifestyle over millions of years, you create modern chronic conditions like diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, heart disease, and others that are all too common.
So what’s the solution? Hike to the store? Sprint intermittently? Load up meat and nuts in a backpack and head back to the house where you haul in wood to start cooking your food? Not likely.
Things like gardening, walking on trails, aerobic dancing, vigorous housework, carpentry, or carrying groceries all count as modern equivalents to hunter and gatherer activity. But sometimes what we do everyday may not be enough to help ease our transition into this new Age, and we still develop an unwanted condition such as back pain. Certain muscles that are used to being used daily get weak (especially with prolonged sitting), and don’t support our backs as much as they should. Considering the fact that 80% of the population has experienced back pain at least once, there’s a very good chance you’ll experience this problem.
Yes, we’ve heard it a million times. Regular sessions of strength and flexibility building exercises are essential for optimizing musculoskeletal and general health and fitness. There’s no way around it. No quick fix. No substitute. So get used to the idea. If you have back problems, you may as well spend time on exercises that have been proven to be linked with chronic back conditions. While there are millions of exercises out there, for many different desired results, no one can neglect key stabilizing muscles in the back. These muscles are not always easily targeted with general exercise, and are often overlooked due to muscle compensation from other areas. Weaknesses are not often spotted until they start causing problems or pain. These problems are not just in the back, but can also be in the shoulders, hips, knees, neck or ankles.
The next post will be about a deep layer muscle that I find weak in many people who experience back pain. This muscle, the multifidus, is in the first layer of muscle on the spine. Research shows weakness in this muscle has been linked with back pain and injuries and if never addressed can lead to a recurring problem or future injuries. I will walk you through how to check for weakness in the multifidus and what to do about it if it is weak. In the meantime… walk trails when you can, dance more, use your push mower instead of a riding mower, stand up from your desk for at least a minute every 20 minutes and just get moving.
To your good health,
Licensed Massage and Physical Therapist
O’Keefe, James H. et al. “Achieving Hunter-gatherer Fitness in the 21st Century: Back to the Future”. The American Journal of Medicine. Vol. 123, Issue 12, Pages 1082–1086. Sept. 14, 2010.
O’keefe, James H. et al. “Organic Fitness: Physical Activity Consistent with Our Hunter-Gatherer Heritage. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. ISSN- 0091-3847, Dec. 2010, Nove 4, Vol. 38.
DeLany, Judith. “Multifidus: The Multitasker”. Massage Today. April, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 04 .
Bushman: credit to South African Tourism, no changes to original, Creative Commons License
Farmer: Public domain. Artist: Painter of the burial chamber of Sennedjem, “Burial chamber of Sennedjem, Scene: Plowing farmer”.
Mechanic: Public domain. Power House Mechanic Working on Steam Pump by Lewis Hine
Computer worker: Public domain. U.S. Centers for Disease Control