The standard rationalisation for how the nine to five day creates poor health has become so routine we don’t really engage with it, but we should – it’s killing us. ‘You come home from a long day, stick a ready meal in the microwave and just don’t have the energy to work out’. Then the expected hard-sell ensues, telling you it’s not easy to get fit but with X amount of changes to your lifestyle you can make it happen. What is most problematic about these self-help styled articles is the unrealistic solution they offer. Besides being too optimistic about how you can easily incorporate five to six hours of exercise into your working week AND transform your eating habits away from fats and sugars, they sell the idea that a more drastic shift in perspective isn’t necessary. This I believe is what holds many of us back from long-term and sustainable change.
Something radical is required to incorporate health, fitness and clean eating into anyone’s lifestyle. This involves both a material and metaphysical transformation ranging from how you live to what your life priorities are. It also demands an incredibly savvy reading of modern food marketing that could sound borderline fanatical from a nutritional amateur.
Above all else one critical decision has to be made to succeed in regaining your health and vitality. Employment and working hours have to be shaped around the principles that facilitate a healthy lifestyle.
Retorts to this statement will all broadly argue that there is no opportunity to be so stringently health-conscious when economic demands are so high. Plus no job = no money = no opportunity to afford the necessary resources for a transformed lifestyle. Essentially this defeatist argument boils down to a dogmatic idea that health and fitness are an indulgence, and one that a focused, career-driven person cannot partake in.
In part this is true. I wouldn’t try to contend that a high-flying executive would be able to maintain personal well-being whilst working 12-hour days. My objection instead comes from the perspective that the very idea of high-pressure, long-hour employment inverts a natural order that we have chosen to diverge from.
We are animals, whose primary function in life is to stay alive and be healthy. Prioritising a 10 to 12-hour working day over incorporating a one-hour workout is essentially defying basic human biology. Instead of indulging in something that provides a very material benefit we have instead bought into a constructed ‘luxury’ that is by its intended purpose, insatiable. Choosing money or ‘success’ over physical and mental well-being inverts a very delicate natural order. If Western society is indeed based upon progress, diminished human health certainly is not part of the plan and should not be something we encourage on a population-wide scale.
Consider the saying, ‘at least you’ve got your health’. In the case of the modern office monkey this has been transformed into ‘at least you’ve got your wage’. The irrationality of this perspective need not be elaborated on any further. It would frighteningly appear we have forgotten what the initial purpose of money was, to trade goods and products that we NEED. Instead we have elaborated the function of money, consumption and living to ignore hard-wired physiological reward systems for something far more artificial and I would argue far more unsatisfying.
This brings me to my key point. To lead a satisfying, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle we must be willing to collectively set reasonable limits on work. This, I feel, has numerous benefits for all of us. For one there are emerging studies; doctors and academics argue that our work hours have become dangerously and inefficiently long, leading to higher stress, less productivity and of course worse health. Theoretically a physically fit employee could contribute just as much in less time whilst also being better, stronger, healthier and more well-rounded.
Furthermore,the corporate ladder is not a substitute for an adequate state of physical well-being. By shunning the overwork culture prevalent in British society we can improve our quality of life and hopefully rebalance a post-crash phenomenon that is dangerous and arguably unethical. Subsequently, this can create a more stress-free, active, alert and self-satisfied society.
With the belligerent disregard by government, employers and society towards our health, a larger systematic readjustment is required. Current techniques of government-backed ads halfheartedly instructing us to exercise, do little more than fulfil a tokenistic pledge to show concern for the nation’s health.If this is contrasted with the persistent production, marketing and proliferation of unhealthy foods at a system-wide scale, the current allegiance of government and business to industrial food manufacturers is clear. Sugar and fat-laden foods have been implicated into daily life without a second thought and without a truly collective shift in attitudes – the junk food establishment will never be deposed.
The adoption of a healthy lifestyle can in effect constitute a rejection of this preordained diktat. Furthermore, employees voting with their feet increases the likelihood for much-needed tightening of food regulations. This also paves the way for real and tangible efforts to make affordable and available exercise facilities. Achievable goals could be health warnings on high sugar foods, a ban on marketing junk food to children and corporate responsibility policies providing exercise equipment or free gym memberships for employees.
Many will argue this to be an overly idealistic conception of health in Britain. The reconstruction of the British working week will be disregarded as too costly. However when the expense of treating obesity by the NHS is factored into account, the preventative costs required to invest in the nation’s health seem all the more feasible. Equally there is a credible argument that healthier working lifestyles coupled with shortened working weeks could in fact increase economic activity or at worst maintain it at current levels. Morally, the responsibility for large multinationals to fund the well-being of their employees in exchange for, often demanding and long-term employment commitments, only seems fair if not obligatory.
On a final note I would like you to consider what could be more important than our nation’s health? What signifies a successful, developed and progressive society better than happy, healthy and active citizens? Truthfully if a readjustment of perspective is taken it would appear clear that health and well-being are a cornerstone of many so-called developed nations, with countries like Scandinavia appearing consistently in this category.
Until change is implemented, British society’s dependence on long work hours, large waistbands and foods containing trans fats will almost definitely persist.