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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Off The Grid: The coddling of the American body

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Aside from the likely course of history making humans obsolete through AI and ever-advancing developments in latex, I sometimes wonder why we care to have these bodies at all.

It seems they are often just the jelly filling inside a Kia, the dumpling on an escalator conveyor belt, or a vessel for the latest fast “food” concoction.

Some days, one entirely forgets to enjoy the marvelous functions of their own human body. If it weren’t for my sacred ritual of morning coffee each day, I may succumb to the same detached fate in which my body becomes a prescription to be filled: the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.

That is about 21.5 minutes a day, although the CDC says we can halve that if the exercise is vigorous. Which basically means one trip to Costco, attending a school board meeting, or watching an NFL game and rooting for the Vikings.

Once upon a time, our bodies were needed to perform the duties of survival. We walked them during a migration, ran away from or after animals, used all four limbs to tend to fields. Our lives required manual labor, whether it was securing safe dwelling or finding sustenance.

The dismal downward trajectory of movement has shifted with technology, despite the invention of that machine at the gym that isolates and trains calf muscles. What would a pioneer or Neanderthal think about us describing this remarkable means of chiseling our calves? Of the generations preceding us, anyone but agents of the Spanish Inquisition would be rightfully baffled.

Nonetheless, we continue to create the problems and their solutions at the breakneck pace of capitalism to the power of vanity (Cx10v) and at the expense of our health and that of the planet. We park as close as we can to our destinations, order delivered food, drive through the bank teller. The only reason I have to get out of my car now is to fuel it up.

At no time is this bizarre juxtaposition of cause and cure more obvious to me than around 7:15 a.m. on a weekday, when my teenager laments the treacherous and long journey to school. Multiple bargaining techniques are applied for a ride from our tiny town residence to the campus. It’s about eight blocks.

What does such a kid do with the extra time the convenience of a ride provides?

Stares at a screen. Just like the rest of us. Scrolling Instagram for pants one doesn’t fit into anymore or reading the latest research on Ozempic (according to the New York Times, it’s making healthy, affluent and white neighborhoods thinner). As a person who took up smoking unfiltered cigarettes to curb a ravenous appetite for baguette during my European residency, I’m hardly one to point fingers.

We are using the guise of convenience and busy lives to justify that which causes us crises of environment, mental health and physical health. I recently had a patient raise concerns about sweating, panting and their heart rate creeping up over 140. I shudder at all the missed opportunities for endorphins. We are slowly losing the joy of having these bodies. In some more tragic cases, our bodies are so unwell or victims of disease, they have become uncomfortable places to inhabit indeed.

The late Thich Nhat Hanh reminded us often that our bodies and the present are our “one true home.” Perhaps a little housekeeping is in order.

We’re not naive. We understand it’s more complicated than putting our phones down or parking farther from the door to cure that autoimmunity and slip back into our college jeans. But maybe we could spend a little more time enjoying the features of these bodies and the experiences they manifest. We can start by placing them in environments and situations that remind us of our five senses.

Outside it is crisp and autumnal. The worn-out bushes and blossoms of summer are hopeful for a few more warm days. The dirt I shovel away from the foundation wall smells dry, depleted. The tips of cedars are reddening and ready for the moisture of the next season. The ground has a used-up crackle and crunch to it when I tromp through the woods. If I drive my kid to school, how will they know the smell and sense of the leaves preparing to turn, or how refreshing it feels to walk on an early fall morning?

The general consensus is we don’t get to take these bodies to the next iteration of ourselves anyway.

Might as well use them while we can.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at