Modern lifestyle and health

Over the weekend, I was at an entrepreneur conference. I wasn’t there to attend any of the talks, but simply because a few of my CoderDojo students were giving talks themselves and a few of my fellow mentors were also involved with the conference, so we moved the entire CoderDojo to the venue (Monaghan Institute) for that weekend.

I spent about two hours answering every question the kids had about 3D printing, and there were a lot. When a child gets interested in something, they can dig really deep down into it and ask the most insightful questions. I had to explain the difference between PLA and ABS, why the bed was heated, how heat-breaks work and why they’re important, what kinds of materials can be printed (basically anything that melts and resolidifies at a predictable temperature) , how multiple-extrusion printers and why /they/ are important (for printing both chocolate and syrup, obviously), etc.

After the class was finished and the kids had mostly gone home except for some stragglers such as my own kids, I got a chance to see some other people’s talks. I got a few minutes of Niall Moyna’s talk on modern technology and health.

It’s unfortunate I didn’t get to stick around for the entire talk, because it is right up the alley of this website and my book, but the essence of what he was saying is that our bodies are “designed” to be active, and yet our technology is designed to keep us inactive.

To illustrate this, he pointed out that when an Australopithecus or Cro-Magnon got up in the morning, they’d better be prepared to run after their breakfast, because the local shop was a few tens of thousand of years away.

He said (and I don’t know the truth of this) that human beings can outrun every other animal on the planet, even if they’re faster, because most animals will need to stop every now and then to pant, while we simply sweat away the heat and keep going.

The point he was making is that we evolved to be active beings.

It has been shown countless times that when we are inactive, we are more likely to die early.

In 1949, Professor Jerry Morris did a study of 31,000 bus conductors and bus drivers and pointed out that bus conductors were 150% more likely per year to die of coronary heart disease. The correlation was because of two noted things: bus conductors are always actively moving and climbing stairs, while bus drivers sit all day and gain weight and fat around their organs.

Modern technology has a tendency of reducing the amount of “work” that we do in order to accomplish goals, which has the side-effect of slowly piling on the pounds on our bodies.

As an example, you are probably sitting while reading this. I’m certainly sitting while writing it.

When you drive your car to a shopping centre, you probably park as close as possible to the entrance. When you go anywhere at all, you try to park as close as possible, because it will reduce the amount of “work” that your body has to do.

Your body has evolved to expect that any energy it stores will be burned off sooner or later, so it doesn’t have a limiter. At no point does your body say “no more – I really can’t store any more of this energy”. Instead, as you eat more and more and don’t burn it off, it converts more and more to fat. All the while, it also makes it harder for you to do the work needed to shift the fat.

Fat is there for the lean times – it’s for the times when you are unable to find food nearby and need to walk miles and possibly days to find it. That scenario is ridiculous in modern days – there are always shops within minutes of any place where you are (in developed countries). But your body doesn’t know that.

Unfortunately, there is no single pill that will solve this.

We do have new methods that can convince the body to burn its fat, converting so-called “white fat” (the normal kind) to “brown fat”, but these methods have not yet been rolled out to the general public, and they only mimic one of the effects of exercise.

Exercise also has an effect on the oxygen intake of the lungs, resting blood pressure, and even happiness. Converting white fat to brown fat is not going to do these things.

It is in every person’s interest to do about 90 minutes of moderate exercise every week. Moderate exercise means something between walking and jogging. Walking up-hill, for example. Doing more than 90 minutes is probably a waste of your energy – you won’t get much more benefit from it, but if you don’t exercise at all, then taking regular walks will almost immediately lower your yearly chance of dying by about 14% and give you an extra 3 years life expectancy.

Modern technology is evolving much faster than the human body, so you need to keep that in mind and try to do more “work” than is necessary. Walk up stairs instead of taking a lift. Park on the far end of the car park. Cycle or walk to work.

The SBSI (Surface-based Body Shape Index) is a good measurement tool for figuring out if your body is “in shape” (literally), as it does a better job than the ABSI and the BMI of correlating body shape to mortality. Use my calculator to figure out your current SBSI, BMI and ABMI, and what you need to do to improve them.

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