The debilitating effects of a sedentary office job will terrify anyone who has one. Spending your day hunched over a desk ruins posture and flexibility, causes neck and back pain, makes your bones soft (really) and increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Simply put: Sitting all day makes us fat, sick and sore—not to mention bored and unfulfilled.
The antidote, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, is pain, specifically in the form of a hyper intense workout regimen.
The suffering that comes with running a marathon or participating in a race like Tough Mudder, which entails crawling around in mud and pretending you’re a Navy SEAL, obviously helps offset the weak bones and paunchy stomach that typically come from hours spent staring blankly at a computer screen. But it also fights against the existential dread of monotonous office work. “For individuals who feel that modern office work has made their bodies redundant, obstacle racing and other forms of short but intense and painful activities provide a brief but acute reappearance of the body,” study coauthor Julien Cayla, assistant professor at the Nanyang Business School in Singapore, tells Futurity.
The findings coincide with pre-existing research about office workers needing to engage in some kind of physical activity to stay sharp. Tough Mudders are on the extreme end of the spectrum, however — most people would benefit from taking periodic walking breaks throughout the day. Sitting for long periods of time slows down your cognitive functioning, while walking gets blood flowing to your brain, makes your thinking more balanced and gives your senses a break from the usual office stimuli, fostering creativity.
But the findings also suggest a disturbing conclusion about the nature of modern work, and our relationship to it. Simply put: Our work doesn’t meet our fundamental needs as humans. The modern “knowledge economy” revolves around people doing silent, sedentary work for more than half their waking hours, creating work that doesn’t occupy physical space, but instead lives only in the ether of the internet.
It’s a scenario so utterly unsatisfying — both physically and spiritually — that people have to crawl under electrified fences in sub-freezing temperatures just to feel alive. Which is not to say we were better off as an agrarian or industrial civilization. But there’s something undeniably fulfilling about working with your hands and forging something tangible, a satisfaction our current job market fails to provide us.