Are We Becoming Sedentary Fish?

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We Are Headed In This Direction 

As a population, we are getting more and more sedentary in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83% since 1950. We used to be much more active, but today many people wake up, commute in a car, sit at an office, commute back, and then sit on the couch. 

The typical office worker sits a shocking 15 hours every single day, and for people who have long commutes, that number is even higher. This is especially troubling given that research has shown that sitting for too long can actually offset the health benefits of working out. Even when it comes to U.S. adults who don’t work in an office, the average American sits for 6.5 hours a day. For teenagers ages 12 to 19, that number is eight hours a day. 

So where is this taking us? What can we expect our future to look like if we continue on this path of moving less and sitting more? Some scientists have turned to a Mexican cavefish for answers. 

That’s right, a fish in Mexico might shed some light on our future if we continue on this road of being couch potatoes. Because inactivity is so bad for human health, it is considered unethical for scientists to conduct experiments comparing groups of active and inactive people. However, thanks to a particular cavefish, researchers may not have to. 

When floods carried some Mexican river fish into caves while other fish of the same species remained on the surface, nature provided researchers with a natural study comparing active and inactive evolutionary paths. 

Because the cavefish have no predators and no current to push against, they face little resistance when they swim, and they never need to sprint away. These are sedentary fish that, in many ways, resemble how modern humans have deviated from the more active humans we were in the past. 

As a result, these cavefish have evolved to be slower, fatter, and have significantly less muscle mass than their counterparts that remained on the surface. Now, you might say that these are fish and we are humans. Those are two very different things. 

Well, surprising as it sounds, the cavefish is a good model from which to examine the possible long-term developmental changes we can expect for humans should we continue this sedentary trend over hundreds of generations. Humans and cavefish are both vertebrates – animals with backbones – and we share about 80% of the same genes. 

The key takeaway? A lifetime of inactivity puts people at higher risk for heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. The science on this is very clear – we need to move our bodies to stay healthy. And now, we also have a glimpse of what inactivity may lead to in the long run as well. 

Fast forward a few generations, and humans might look very different than they do today. We will be fatter, slower, and have less muscle over time, just like the cavefish. 

What do you think?

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