Being lazy is often synonymous with being a kid. Your only responsibility is to have fun, which means blowing off chores and homework in favor of TV, video games, and other entertainment for as long as Mom and Dad let you. While this is not news, what is newsworthy and alarming is that research published in Preventive Medicine this August suggests that today’s youth may be just as sedentary as Grandma and Grandpa.
Scientists from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is designed to offer a picture of health behaviors across all age groups and demographics in the U.S.
During two non-consecutive years in the early 2000’s, the NHANES required participants to wear an accelerometer that tracked how much they moved throughout the week. Using this data, the Johns Hopkins team analyzed a sample size of 12,529 people across five age groups: children aged 6-11, teens aged 12-19, adults age 20-30 and 31-59 as well as older adults 60 or older. The staggering finding? The teens proved roughly as active as seniors.
Labeling these young folks as “lazy” may be tempting and easy, but it’s not necessarily correct. Sonima’s pain and anatomy advisor, Pete Egoscue, suggests the problem may be physical dysfunction.
What Is Physical Dysfunction?
“Broadly speaking, humans are designed to be symmetrical bipeds—standing on two feet, vertically aligned, with the load-bearing joints, including ankles, knees, hips and shoulders, stacked,” Egoscue says. “That’s the design of posture.”
Deviations from that design are sources of physical dysfunction. If you walk around a busy street or office, you’ll see such deviations everywhere, Egoscue says. Some common examples include when the…
…head is held in front rather than on top of the torso.
…shoulders are rounded forward―a common problem for those who sit at a desk.
…pelvic tilts, which is when the pelvis either “slumps” forward (creating an exaggerated J-Lo booty look) or “dumps” backward (making the back look like a “C”).
…feet point to the sides (think 10 and 2 o’clock) rather than straight ahead when standing still.
When the body is properly aligned, it can generate energy more efficiently. “The exchange of nutrients and waste between the cells can occur more quickly. The veins in your legs, which rely on movement to help them fight gravity and return blood to your heart, are able to do their jobs more effectively,” Egoscue says. “When you are structurally sound, these processes aren’t restricted. They don’t have to compensate.”
The Trouble with Modern Living
But here’s the thing. Our bodies are moving less thanks to our modern lifestyles. As anyone in fitness knows, when it comes to the body and its abilities, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So what we’re seeing, Egoscue says, are people becoming less and less able to move, work, and do things that were once common just a few generations ago.
“You have humans becoming incapable thanks to a society that more or less allows us to be sedentary,” explains Egoscue, creator of the Egoscue Method, an exercise therapy program designed to heal chronic pain. “The unthinkable result is that—for the majority of those below a certain age in the U.S. right now—movement hurts.”
By “hurts,” Egoscue isn’t just talking about physical pain. Teens may not feel anything like an injury when they move. Instead, the hurt that they experience may be more emotionally based. Physical movements may drain their energy, leaving them feeling fatigued, and therefore, may not be worth the effort.
“Hurt has an emotional component. We’re not going to do things that don’t make us feel good. Where you or I might go out for a run, hike, swim, or surf because we feel good, [many teens] don’t because their bodies aren’t as capable as they once were,” Egoscue says.
In other words, a teen’s day-to-day may not ask them to do much in terms of moving. But they don’t know that. So they do what’s required of them on most days. And when they go to do something physical, they may find it far more challenging than they expected. As a result, the teen may find the activity more frustrating than enjoyable.
The Trend Toward Less Movement
And while it’s easy to say that this is a problem with today’s kids, the truth is that our society has been trending this way for a long time, Egoscue says. For proof, he points to two seemingly recent developments that have roots that go far deeper.
1. Labor shortages
“Most farmers have more work than they know what to do with. They can’t find people willing to do it,” Egoscue says. That fact has been true for years, even as wages for farm workers have risen substantially. The situation is grim enough that many farms in California are racing to use more robotic harvesters lest their food rot in the fields. Similarly, 80 percent of construction businesses have reported having a hard time finding skilled laborers, too. A leading trade organization concluded that “we have likely only seen the beginning of the construction labor shortage.”
2. The rise of e-sports
Kids want to watch other kids play…video games. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s a reality and a booming business. Sports Illustrated reports that video game tournaments are now selling out major arenas across the U.S. Egoscue sees a direct connection between how kids are raised in their earliest years to how an increasing number of them recreate now. “When kids are young, parents are using things, like Baby Einstein, to try and make them smarter with computers and flashing lights,” Egoscue says. “Now think about the stimulation at a video game tournament. It’s all visual.” But remember: These sort of tournaments have been around since the 1980s. There was even a movie about them featuring Fred Savage. So what we’re seeing isn’t anything new. It’s just far bigger.
So the issue isn’t that today’s teens are some type of lazy outlier. What we’re seeing, Egoscue says, is more of a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger as it goes. So how do you stop its momentum and help young people get moving again?
Improve Alignment to Boost Activity
“If you want a kid to have better health, you can’t just tell them, ‘Oh, you gotta do something else besides sit behind that computer screen,’ because all that is going to do is cause conflict,” Egoscue says. “Instead, you have to meet them where they are. Use their own values and vocabularies to help them realize the problem, and see the solution.”
Egoscue suggests starting with what is perhaps the biggest, and most common, dysfunction among young people: Forward head posture.
Sitting in school chairs, on sofas, and at computers, misshapes kids’ bodies, Egoscue says. The resulting “swayback” position, where the head juts forward of the shoulders, while the middle spine sways backward, causes a myriad of problems, including inhibited breathing and chronic pain. Thankfully, you can start correcting the issue today. All you need is a wall—and the ability to get a teenager to listen to you.
This simple exercise reminds the body what it’s like to truly be upright. Here’s what you need to do: Stand with your heels, butt, upper back and head up against a wall. Make sure your feet are pointing straight ahead. Once in place, hold the position for five minutes, relaxing your stomach muscles and arms so that your palms are facing your sides. Now ask your teen to do the same thing. Yeah, sure, they can watch TV while they complete the exercise.