From hunting to complaints- how our movements have become smaller and smaller

9 May 2023
Gerry Hameetman

We are living quite a bit longer these days than we used to. Fortunately, a lot more comfortably, too. You might say- but for our bodies, this is actually not at all favourable.

There was a time when we had to hunt for food dressed in bearskins. First with a wooden club, later with a spear made of iron. Chances were that when stalking your prey, you yourself became the bait of some wild animal and had to run for your life. Who thinks about that nowadays, in the supermarket or at the butcher’s, when all you have to do for your ‘booty’ is to reach out your hand or point it out.

A different kind of danger

Yet in this convenience lurks a very different danger. In the past, we mainly used our big muscles, during radical efforts like running or climbing a tree. Nowadays, our movements in everyday life are literally much smaller. We often earn our living in sedentary occupations. And yet it is much healthier when we use the large muscles (e.g. the arm and leg muscles) in our bodies: blood circulation is then optimal. And good circulation is necessary to keep the body and mind oxygenated and thus healthy. Moreover, our smaller muscles are not meant for intensive exercise. They get strained faster.

Civilised crafts

It seems that as we became more ‘civilised’, our movements became smaller and smaller. After the development of agriculture, we started doing a wider and wider range of specialised trade crafts. Crafts that led to increasingly specific, less diverse movements. While, in the long run, repeated movements lead to strain and complaints. A hammering blacksmith in the Middle Ages may have been one of the first to suffer from RSI! With our hunger for knowledge, science also gained in importance, so ever-more began to take place on paper and in the head.


Once we created machines, our efforts became altogether less physical due to far-reaching automation. And there we are now, in the year 2023: sitting on our office chairs, typing and staring at a monitor, at best thoughtlessly “hunting” for the computer mouse. To engage thumb and index finger. Running or tree-climbing away from the ‘beasts’ we can fall prey to these days makes little sense. Our big muscles still mainly come into play in the gym and it is the small wrist, hand and finger muscles in particular that still move (too) much. 

Civilised solutions

So our prosperity has its price: comfort and convenience bring certain physical complaints. But the ingenuity that has brought us humans this far also brings us solutions, in the form of ergonomics. Today, it is not at all weird to sit at your desk on a balance ball or desbike, or to do 20 stretching exercises at your computer’s command. Those for whom that is just a little too advanced can also simply stretch their legs by chasing after a nice cup of coffee. And press a button at the coffee machine.

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