What is Happening to our Modern Bodies?
[This is the first in a series of essays about the state of the human body.]
We learn at an early age that we have come to our current physical state over millions of years adapting to our environment. We accept that over the course of this long stretch of time, we moved from single-celled creatures to those with multiple cells. We changed from animals in the water, with gills and fins, to those inhabiting the forests, covered in hair and walking on all fours. A large percentage of the population understands that this “theory” is indeed true. We adapted to our surroundings by discarding that which we don’t need and improving that which we do.
Even before I became a personal trainer, I started looking at people’s bodies. I know that sounds weird, but it was as if I was looking for clues to people’s personalities through their bodies. People with good posture and a deliberate yet relaxed stride might be the confident ones -- leaders. Those who walked quickly, with short steps, head looking down were perhaps shy and nervous. Big bellies could either be lots of beer to match that happy-go-lucky face, too many steak sandwiches or even a new mother.
Over time, these bodies started to merge into a vision. I realized I was seeing the future. The more I looked at people, the more I noticed shared traits in their posture and physical structure.
I started to think about the future, and about evolution. I started thinking about how we developed into animals who walked upright, on two legs and how it’s the result of millions of years spent adapting to our environment.
Who or what is to say that the process is over?
So, naturally, I asked myself, “What would Future Human look like?”
A vision came to me. This person had a long neck that didn’t extend upright between the shoulders, like ours does, but rather a neck that extended from the sternal notch (that little divot between our collar bones) at about a 130 degree angle. Facing downward.
This person had two, not five, digits on each hand. Each hand consisting of a thumb and a giant “finger”. Like a mitten.
With the trappings of our modern life, and the increase in our technology-driven and sedentary lives, it didn’t seem like such a freakish vision of what we could become.
I kept that image of a hunched-over, four fingered person alive, but in the back of my mind, for years.
Then I became a personal trainer.
Again, I found myself looking at bodies. And now I was working with them. I was looking at them in order to help them get healthy. I became aware of a theme, for lack of a better word, in the the issues and complaints that many of my clients shared.
“My hips hurt.”
“My lower back hurts.”
“My neck hurts.”
I thought back to my vision of Future Human.
And it occurred to me that Future Human is closer than we think. In fact, Future Human is a result of how we live our lives in modern society. It’s the shape and posture our body is taking as it adapts to its environment.
We live our lives looking at our phones and tablets, sitting at our desks or in our cars, watching television, Netflix and Youtube and our bodies are adapting to what we are asking them to do. With rounded shoulders, forward-tilting heads and forward pointing hips, we are in the midst of an evolution. What I and my colleagues see in the gym with our clients is indicative of something we can call Modern Body Syndrome.
It looks like this:
Photo: Daniel Featherstone
I’m not saying everyone’s body will morph into something hunched over, but the more time we spend ignoring the effect the environment has on our own bodies, the more chance we have of not only altering our physical structure, but of doing real and long term damage to our health and well-being.
In the next essay, we will cover what Modern Body Syndrome is and how it effects us.