Modern life has left us accustomed to sitting for the majority of our time, and moving very little otherwise. This might very well be the reason for the majority of bodily aches and pains in people of all ages. The solution is simply to embrace more active lifestyles.
The human body has natural asymmetries. If you study your body closely, you’ll notice that the muscles on either side of your body don’t look exactly the same, and that’s okay. However, a problem arises when you keep training these imbalances: to maintain a healthy body, you want these muscular imbalances to be as minimal as possible. At its core, this is what the bodybuilding discipline strives to do: build a body as symmetric as could be. I am not saying we should all become bodybuilders, but there is something for all of us to learn from the sport.
Even the most active of us live largely sedentary lives. From the day we enter kindergarten, we are trained to spend hours upon hours a day sitting down, hunched up over our desks reading and writing. Eventually, that progresses into hours spent with arms huddled over our keyboards for large fractions of our days, and necks often bent downwards towards our screens. This is all part of the norm, and we are often told that a 5-minute break every hour will fix all our aches and pains.
It is no secret that modern life is unnatural. The human body is not meant to be used the way we use it today, formal schooling and office jobs were introduced fairly recently in human history. It is no surprise that our shoulders, backs, knees, and necks are protesting. When we sit down on our chairs, we largely disengage a large part of our natural musculature. The largest muscle in your body also happens to be the one you use as a cushion to sit on. After years of sitting on one of our most important muscle groups, we forget how to properly use them. This could lead to all sorts of aches, as other joints and muscle groups try to compensate for our glutes (butt muscles), For example, knee pain is often caused by a lack of glute activation.
In the same vein, we recline into the backs of our chairs, effectively disengaging the use of our core muscles, which we use to keep us upright. We lean into our desks, supporting the weight of our bodies with our elbows, shrugging our shoulders upwards. Our shoulders begin to rotate inwards with time, as we are always reaching forwards into our keyboards. Over time, this tightens the muscles on the front side our bodies while leaving our posterior muscles underused. The chronic upward shrug in our shoulders leads to tight trapezius (trap) muscles, ultimately leading to neck pain.
We often sling backpacks, laptop cases, and handbags over our shoulders, and it is often the same shoulder that has to carry the burden each time. This would only aggravate our already-tired traps and lead to the development of only one side, further exacerbating our neck and shoulder issues.
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for these issues. This is not to say that there is no solution. We have put ourselves in the position where we have unlearned basic human movement, and now we must relearn the use of our bodies. Perhaps the modern gym is also unnatural, but it is also the space where we work towards regaining the use of our bodies, where we learn to move like we were born to. We owe our bodies this at least: to know how to use our bodies well.