5 Ways Modern Life's Causing Our Bodies To Fall Apart
If your idea of taking care of yourself is only adding two candy toppings to your ice cream sundae, then you are reasonably representative of the modern American. Our awful lifestyles are causing our bodies to fall apart in all sorts of bizarre ways. Sit up (if you can) and take note of how ...
Modern Men Have Significantly Weaker Grip Strength Than Previous Generations
The Journal Of Hand Therapy, which is a real scientific publication and not a sophisticated pornographic magazine, found a significant decline in the grip strength of healthy men aged 20-34 compared to data on men from 1985. Grip strength is a measure of how much force you can apply to an object -- say, something firm and cylindrical -- and there's been a drop from 117 to 98 pounds.
The sample sizes weren't ideal in terms of representation, but they align with the results of other recent inquiries, like the fact that children are less physically fit than they were 30 years ago. While that gives your email-forwarding grandma plenty of ammunition about kids these days, the real takeaway is that our weaker hands and wimpier children seem to correspond with today's more sedentary lifestyles. There are a lot more men whose jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day than there were in 1985, when manual labor was more common. Grip strength is accordingly weaker (and asses are accordingly fatter).
This doesn't mean that America is experiencing a crisis of masculinity that can be solved by weekend lumberjack getaways, but the country's army of office drones could definitely benefit from hitting the gym more. Grip strength is a strong predictor of later life mortality (as in, whether you make it to a stately 85 or drop dead of a heart attack at 60), and weaker grip strengths imply an overall trend of less physical activity. So now you don't need your doctor to tell you that you need more exercise -- anyone you meet can tell you after you offer them a handshake and they're left unconvinced that you even made contact.
Contemporary Life Is Bad For Our Hearing
We associate hearing loss with the elderly. The only time the rest of us give it any thought is when we're considering faking it in order to get out of having to make small talk with a grocery store clerk. But one in four Americans show signs of hearing loss. It's the country's third most chronic health problem (behind long-running titleholder cancer and its perpetual challenger, diabetes).
We were going to embed a hearing test, but the best we could find were these two minutes of total silence.
85 decibels is generally considered a threshold for noise that can do permanent damage, although some health advocates argue that an environment where noise levels are as low as 70 decibels is optimal for daily life. But the problem is that you probably have no idea what the hell constitutes 70 or 85 decibels, and you'd be far from alone.
We generally assume that you can only damage your hearing in places like concerts or construction sites, but gyms, restaurants, traffic, and other daily environments can easily crack that 85-decibel mark. Even phones, when cranked to their maximum volume, can blast out 100 ear-annihilating decibels (a typical nightclub hits 110), so watch your bedtime YouTube consumption.
Hearing naturally declines with age, although that decline is, well, declining. It's likely because of a drop in those grip-strengthening manufacturing jobs, as well as healthier habits like less smoking and more use of ear protection. But there is a concern that modern urban design is failing to factor in the hubbub of daily life, and that the average person, unaware of the seriousness of the problem, isn't taking steps to protect their ears.
The World Health Organization even considers hearing loss an "underestimated threat," as if our long-neglected Matchbox 20 albums are going to sneak up and deafen us in our sleep. So be the nerd who wears earplugs at a concert. You'll thank us when you're 65 and can still understand what the fuck people are saying to you. Or can at least still hear them, anyway.
Asthma Is More Common, And We're Not Sure Why
Asthma rates have been climbing steadily over the last three decades, as have the associated medical bills and death counts, and the official scientific explanation is a big ol' shrug. The popular theory for a while was that we're simply too awesome at keeping the world clean, an idea that now seems suspect whenever you step foot in the average American apartment.
The logic behind the "hygiene hypothesis" was that kids need exposure to dust, dirt, bacteria, viruses, and other crap so that their bodies will learn how to react accordingly. If that training is absent, the body will go into red alert whenever it encounters harmless dust particles because it thinks they're a murderous plague. This still seems to hold true for allergies, but asthma rates are also climbing in developing countries and what we'll diplomatically call the less-hygiene-focused parts of America, and researchers are stumped as to why.
So far the main conclusion has been "Well shit, asthma seems way more complicated than we thought," but the usual health suspects like obesity and sedentary living are possible causes, given that they affect lung strength. Researchers are also trying to tweak the hygiene hypothesis to focus on specific kinds of bacteria. Children who grew up on farms, handled livestock, and drank raw milk are basically immune to asthma and allergies, presumably because they have different strains of bacteria kicking around their airways. So there's another reason raw milk enthusiasts are going to lecture you.
Scientists are trying to pin down a more definitive explanation for why modern life seems to have messed with our immune systems. In the meantime, we guess it wouldn't hurt to try cuddling a bunch of pigs.
We're All Getting Worse Vision
Myopia, aka nearsightedness, aka nerd vision, has increased significantly since the 1970s. Roughly 41 percent of Americans are nearsighted, and it's estimated that at least half of 2050's global population will have glasses to push up their nose when they're making a pedantic point about a superhero movie. This will affect more than the need to reassure each other that we all look hot in glasses. Headaches, eyestrain, and having to awkwardly lean on the counter and squint at the coffee shop menu are all common side effects of myopia.
Part of this is genetics. The nearsighted can now easily survive to reproduce instead of getting mowed down by horse-drawn carriages or whatever. Also, kids should be getting one to three hours of daily outdoor activity, and they are absolutely not. Exposure to the sun's sweet, sweet rays is an important part of ensuring healthy eye growth, while sitting inside 24/7 spikes a child's odds of being nearsighted. Like with most modern health problems, we're not saying that we need to throw all of these evil computers in the trash and revert to living in a hunter-gatherer society, but it is important to tell your kids to put the tablets down and run around outside for a bit. Or at least use the tablets outside for a while.
There's also the growing problem of eye strain, which doesn't cause long-term damage, but does produce constant pain and irritation. You can probably guess the obvious contemporary cause there. Screens are tough on our eyes, and we're all spending all day squinting at them instead of frolicking through the great outdoors. The average adult has nine goddamn hours of screen time a day, and should therefore be taking regular breaks to relieve strain. Every 20 minutes you should take at least 20 seconds to look at an object that's at least 20 feet away, like a weird bird or an attractive co-worker. You should also tone down your brightness settings, use apps that soften your monitor's glow at night, and sit a little further away from the computer. You should also call your mom more. That's not eye-related; she just worries about you.
Finally, remember to get an eye exam once every two years, because much like how there might be no obvious sign of a tumor forming in your brain at this very moment, common eye problems like glaucoma can bubble up beneath the surface without displaying a single symptom, right up until your vision goes to shit. We're probably not going to be able to stop the coming myopiapocalypse, but at least we can be as smart about it as all of our glasses will imply.
We're Not Even Safe When We Sleep
All of this dour news is enough to make you want to crawl back into bed. Sleep is good for you, right? Too bad you probably suck shit at it. At least 25 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and more are being diagnosed by the grumpy, restless hour. The prevalence may actually be as high as 26 percent of Americans between 30 and 70, because many people who experience apnea, under the impression that they're merely industrial snore machines, might go undiagnosed.
But the effects are worse than irritating whoever shares your bed, as sleep apnea is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, and general early death. It's also linked to sheer exhaustion, so if you stumble through your days feeling like you only got a couple hours of sleep last night, in a way, you kind of did. Choking and gasping your way through the night, even if you're not aware that you're doing it, isn't as restful as spending eight calm hours dreaming that you once again won the Sex Olympics.
Some of the increase can be attributed to better awareness and diagnosis, but the main cause, like with so many other modern health issues, is almost certainly increased obesity rates. Even kids, who are getting fatter by the year, are suffering from apnea. We're ruining our sleep in other, non-donut-related ways too -- screen time before bed also disrupts sleep. See how all of the elements of modern life are coming together to screw you?
Having millions of exhausted Americans stumble around is not good for the country. Apnea spikes are linked to an increase in traffic accidents because everyone is just plain tired. But the good news is that apnea, once spotted, can be effectively treated without the need for you to do anything drastic like "losing weight" or "examining your lifestyle." So if you're struggling to sleep through the night, don't hesitate to talk to a doctor, if only so you don't accidentally run us off the road one day.
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