With the aid of technology, humankind has been able to exist in any environment around the planet: the highest peaks, the deepest oceans, the hottest deserts, the sub-zero polar regions, and even in the micro-gravity of space. In each case the body finds a way to adapt. That’s one of the many remarkable things about the human form, adaptation.
Since the dawning of the Space Race, NASA has been studying how the human body adapts to life in microgravity. Bed rest studies were conducted on test subjects to determine what happens to human physiology when in a “gravity free” environment for prolonged periods of time. Volunteers were paid ($5,000 per month is the current rate) to lay in a hospital bed for 90 days and move as little as possible. The foot of the bed would be raised six degrees so body fluids would move toward the head, an effect that would occur without earth’s gravity. Although each test subject maintained their initial body weight, through constant monitoring of calories, there were many other elements which did change.
Here are some of the findings:
- Decreased bone density/bone loss (rate of 1-2% per month)
- Decrease in blood flow/circulation
- Decrease in oxygen level
- Decrease in strength levels
- Decrease of kinesthetic awareness (knowing where your body is relative to gravity)
- Decrease in balance
- Decrease in metabolism
- Increase in fatigue
- Increase in anxiety
- Increase in dizziness
The truly shocking thing about the results of this study is that many of the above findings appeared within the first eight hours! The average work day. The only differences between the test subjects and the average American worker are the maintenance of their bodyweight and one other thing; the subjects were lying in hospital beds while the worker lives in luxury wheelchairs.
Luxury wheelchairs are office chairs, cars and other modes of transportation. Think about it for a minute. The average person wakes up and the first thing they do is sit to relieve themselves, then he/she sits and has breakfast. This is followed by a short walk to the driveway where he/she proceeds to sit and travel to work. Once at work, it is only a short walk to the elevator and on into the office where he/she sits for an average of eight hours with minimal breaks to sit and eat, or sit and relieve themselves again.
With the work day done the sitting commute is reversed. Upon arriving home he/she sits for dinner and then for a few hours of sitting in front of the television for the favorite reality show. Finally, it’s off to bed. Chances are the worker lies on his/her side in bed curled up in a seated-like position. Pure adaptation.
This is not a feel-good blog. It is my hope that after reading this, you decide to get out a calculator and add up the hours of your day and determine how much you are choosing to live your life in a wheelchair. I have friends who are physically confined to such an environment and, given the chance, would gladly change places with anyone who chooses to live the way they do. How many weeks out of the year are you living in a wheelchair by your own choosing? One third of our lives are spent sleeping, what is the percentage spent sitting? Have I put it in perspective to change the way you think about how you treat your body? Let me know. I think I’ll go for a walk now.