It is irrefutable that our ancestors 500 years ago were not seduced by a drive-thru, internet dating, electronic mail, or electric dishwashers. Five hundred years ago, people washed their dishes by hand, traveled to work on foot, and conducted commercial and social interaction with vigor and physical exertion. Five hundred years ago more than 90% of the human race lived in agricultural communities. People then functioned in the way the human body was designed: in motion. Five hundred years ago there was not an obesity epidemic and the human race was thin.
It is not because the fundamental biology of the human has changed in 500 years but rather the space we live in has. Now more than half of the world’s population lives in cites. Many modern office workers sit 15 hours a day. Modernity is as chair seductive as an open-24-hour-bar would be to an alcoholic. Swamped in sedentariness, it is no coincidence that there is an epidemic of dog obesity. Modern dogs are as sofa-sentenced as their owners.
Across high and middle income countries obesity rates continue to increase. There are a billion and a half people in the world with obesity and the number is on the rise. Even in areas previously threatened with starvation obesity rates are increasing. In America it is now normal to be overweight or obese. On top of that, 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. Previously unheard of, now children are developing adult type (type 2) diabetes. An additional 79 million Americans already have high blood sugar values (called pre-diabetes) forewarning of diabetes about to strike. Already 31% of Americans have high blood pressure. Unless we act now, the tsunami of chronic diseases will devastate the nation far more the financial crisis did; it won’t be homes that will be lost—lives will be lost on their millions. Urbanization and industrialization are the themes; the chair sentence coupled to excess food is the principal cause.
As a modern race we have entered the house marked PROSPERITY. We live in a dull gray modernity of constant sedentariness. We are so proud of all the things we have bought while sitting in our chairs—cars, computers, clothes, entertainment, sex, and homes far bigger than we need; we wear these items as badges of wealth so that everyone else can see. The Chairman has seduced a naturally active, vibrant, dynamic and happy populace. We are no longer Homo sapiens—we’ve become Homo sedentarius.
Have you become Homo sedentarius? What’s your strategy for being more active during the day? Tell us in the comments. Then enter to win a copy of Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.
Dr. James A. Levine is the Director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Solutions Initiative and is the inventor of multiple activity tracking devices, as well as the treadmill desk. He has published more than 100 scientific papers, worked on dozens of corporate programs, and his work has been featured on Rock Center, 60 Minutes, BBC, The New York Times, and The Times of London. His new book, Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, will be available on July 29, 2014 from Macmillan Publishers.