Health Perils of 2017, By Dr. Sven W
Right before Christmas, on my way to the airport, I discovered a new threat to our health. The Uber driver was describing his Christmas shopping list and how he was going about acquiring the gifts. Going to the mall and braving the weather, battling for a parking spot, standing on lines for checkout, carrying heavy bags, struggling to get out of the lot and coming home late, were all not part of the equation. The new strategy started with his getting a beer from the fridge, walking to his desk and opening his computer. He was entering the world of internet shopping. Warm and comfy in his living room, he was not going to move from his chair, except for brief visits to the john, secondary to beer’s diuretic effect. He was now part of the new modern way of clearing that long Holiday shopping list. Sounded great. Or did it? It reminded me of something I wrote about months ago and set off an alarm.
With the passing of each decade daily, calorie expenditure drops. From the moment we get up and throughout the day we spend fewer calories than our parents and grandparents did. Starting from the electric toothbrush, to the electric coffee maker, to the instant oatmeal, to the dishwasher, we have managed to use fewer calories. We walk out that door into the car that has automatic everything. We no longer pick up the newspaper. We read the news on the internet. Did people really walk to a newsstand or candy store for the morning papers?
We park in the garage, walk into the elevator that whisks us to our office. We enter our cubicle or safe spot for the day. The computer in front of us, the cellphone beside us, we have no reason to get up and walk out. If we want to speak to a co-worker, just text or send an email. Why get up and talk to anyone? How many calories can one spend sitting at a desk all day? Need groceries- order on line and they deliver. Why go to the store when it is raining outside? Lunch- no problem- either eat at your desk or take the elevator to the cafeteria.
After a day of predominantly sitting, we reverse the process for the homeward journey. Back at the house, we open the computer or TV. Everything is remote control . No need to get up until dinner. Great! We are having dinner at home. We usually order out. Why dirty the range top or oven? We eat on plastic plates- no dishes and little clean up. Just two wine glasses. Download a movie which we watch in bed. Did our parents really go the movies once a week? What a waste of time and energy. In two decades we have managed to halve the caloric output of our grandparents. To top it off, we eat better and richer diets. Life is good.
That brings us to the newest threat for 2017. Prototypes like Google: Home and Amazon: Echo are going to make things worse. Why get up to turn off the light or get a book to look something up? Just ask and your wish is their command. And this is only the beginning. Home robots now vacuum (Dyson’s 150,000 yen-360 eye or iRobot’s Romba) and clean. Stand up vacuum cleaners that my grandparents used actually required one to walk around the room. You have to be kidding. Need to wash a floor- use a Swifter. When P&G introduced the Swifter to Italy it failed to take hold. Imagine Italians actually enjoy getting on their knees and cleaning the floor manually. Will things get worse?
There is a concept called “telepresence”. The term was coined in 1980 by Marvin Minsky (deceased MIT Professor of Artificial Intelligence. His body was presumably cryogenically preserved to be reawakened in 2045). Telepresence refers to a set of technologies that allows a person to feel as if they are present while they are in reality at a remote location. Practically, this led to the teleconferencing’s worldwide application. Now take this concept one step further. You sit at home and hire a robot who shops for you at a local store or at a far removed mall in London or Paris. It can be designed with humanoid features that resemble your measurements and can try on the selected item. How about a robot that tours remote sites of the world, while you sit at home in the comfort of your living room and enjoy the view and experience in real time. You avoid the risks and costs of world travel. Is it fantasy? No, the future.
It all sounds great but where does it leave you? At home, heavier, less active, less mobile, less socially interactive and less healthy. The antidote is to get up and get out.
Next week, we look at something that affects all of us –low back pain.
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