Tag Archives: physical health

Lessons From Japan’s (Deadly) Work Culture

Karoshi: Why Do So Many Japanese Die From Overworking?

In general, being a hard worker is a respectable trait to have. Regardless of your background, culture, or political affiliations, we tend to value and celebrate those who are willing to put in the extra effort into whatever they do for a living. It’s not easy. It can be incredibly stressful at times. Then again, most things worth doing are.

I certainly remember plenty of times when I worked hard. Going all the way back to high school, I can recall days in which I spent nearly every waking hour grinding away at something or another, be it schoolwork, chores, or a part-time job. I remember being drained when all was said and done, but I was ultimately stronger because of it.

That being said, there is a certain threshold in which hard work ceases to be about productivity and just becomes downright damaging. I suspect many people have approached or cross that threshold at some point in their lives, whether it’s with school or a career. However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how damaging excessive work can be.

This brings me to Japan and their legendary, albeit infamous, work culture. Think back to the longest, hardest day you had at school or your job. In Japan, that’s basically Tuesday. Work for them is not just some 9-to-5 gig you do for a paycheck. It’s a sizable chunk of their lives, more so than American or European workers.

Working overtime, sleeping at the office, and sacrificing for the company aren’t seen as above and beyond. That’s the standard. Yes, it’s a very high standard, but let’s not forget these are real people pushing themselves in extreme ways to meet that standard.

While this high emphasis on work has helped Japan become one of the best economies in the world, it does have a dark side. It’s so prevalent and common, in fact, that the Japanese even have a word for it. It’s called Karoshi, which translates to “overwork death.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it’s actually more complex than that.

It’s a serious ongoing issue in Japan. You don’t have to look far for horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to Karoshi. There are real cases of otherwise healthy 31-year-old men dying of heart failure after regularly working 14-hour days for 7 years straight.

Take a step back and appreciate that kind of strain.

You work so long and so hard that your heart gives out.

It’s one thing to work until you’re tired and sore, but it takes a special kind of strain for your heart to just give out.

As bad as that is, this isn’t the only way Karoshi manifests. Beyond the long hours at the office and the constant stress that comes with it, you can see other signs throughout Japan. It’s not that uncommon to see people asleep on the streets or on park benches. It’s as normal as seeing someone taking selfies.

For a more in depth look on how this unfolds in Japan, check out this video. It’s what got me interested in this topic and inspired me to bring it up.

Now, I’m not looking to denigrate or demean another country’s work culture. I understand that not every society sees work the same way or approaches it in a way people from my part of the world would recognize. At the same time, it’s hard to overlook the issues that result in people dying of heart attacks before they’re 40.

It’s something the Japan is trying to address, but changing ingrained culture isn’t easy. Changing peoples work habits isn’t easy, either. People are set in their ways. I say that as someone who regularly struggled with Spanish quizzes in high school, but never though to adjust study habits.

It’s also an issue I think highlights and important lesson for any society that emphasizes hard work. Yes, it’s generally good, but there are limits. There comes a point where the work is more valued than the person doing it and when you reach that point, the well-being of the person becomes an afterthought.

Those who claim that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life may beg to differ. To them, I would remind them that the human body doesn’t recognize whether or not you’re doing something you love or something you hate. It just knows when it’s being strained to the point where it starts failing.

I feel like this will become more relevant in the coming years. The events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have already significantly affected the workplace and I’m not just referring to the rise of telework. If anything, these events have accelerated the pace of automation. The jobs that used to require all that grinding are becoming less and less necessary.

What will that mean for workers in general?

What will that mean for work culture like that of Japan?

Will it make Karoshi better or worse as certain jobs become more scarce or unnecessary?

These are difficult questions to answer right now, but I suspect that these trends won’t change peoples’ inclination for hard work. It’s just a matter of where that effort will be directed and how we’ll balance it out with the health of the individual. That’s a balance that we still need to strike, no matter how many jobs get automated.

Work/life balance isn’t just a popular buzzword. It’s critical to those who want to both be productive and live fulfilling lives. If you’re life is all work, then is it really living in the grand scheme of things? If anything, the Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi offers insight into what happens when there is no balance. The line between working hard and working yourself to death can get blurred at times, but it’s worth making that line just a little bit clearer, if only to navigate it more effectively.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, psychology, real stories

My Workout Playlist (For Those Still Committed To Get In Shape This Year)

The first few days of 2020 have gone by quickly. We’ve still got plenty more to go and for those still serious about their New Years Resolution, I applaud and encourage you. Anyone who has given up on theirs by now was probably not serious about them in the first place.

Since one of the most common resolutions is to get in shape, I thought I’d touch on that again. A few days ago, I wrote about how certain people at the gym I go to didn’t seem to be taking that effort very seriously. I tried to be fair and offer advice for those who genuinely want to improve their health, fitness, and overall well-being. In hindsight, I think I might have been a bit harsh.

To make up for it, I thought I’d share one aspect of working out that I genuinely enjoy. It involves listening to music during a workout. I know that’s not a novel concept. Chances are that when you go to a gym, most of the people working out will have headphones on. I know because I’m one of them. In fact, listening to music while working out is something that makes my workout genuinely enjoyable.

If you want to do something that’ll make exercise feel less tedious, a good playlist is a great way to achieve that. What constitutes a “good playlist” varies from person to person. Not everyone has the same tastes. I know people who can work out listening to classical, jazz, country, and rap music. There’s nothing wrong with any genre. As long as it helps get you in the right mindset, then it can only help.

I have a lot of music on my phone, but I have a special playlist that I call my “Workout Mix” that I listen to whenever I’m at the gym. Whether I’m lifting weights or running on a treadmill, I just put the list on shuffle and have at it. Before long, I’m rocking out and working out. It’s win-win.

If you intend to get into shape in 2020, I highly recommend putting together a workout mix. If it helps, I’ll share mine. Please note that mine is tailored to my tastes. Yours are likely different. Pick the music that works best for you. This just happens to work best for me.

Metallica – Enter Sandman

Metallica – Hardwired To Self-Destruct

Quiet Riot – Come On Feel The Noise

DMX – X Goin’ Give It To Ya

Lady Gaga – Applause

Flo Rida – Right Round

AC/DC – Thunderstruck

Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart

Collective Soul – Shine

Collective Soul – December

Soundgarden – Spoonman

Robin Schultz – Sugar

Rick James – Superfreak

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nelly – Hot In Here

James Labrie – Pretender

Guns N’ Roses – Welcome To The Jungle

Guns N’ Roses – Sweet Child Of Mine

Eve 6 – Inside Out

Drowning Pool – Step Up

The Beastie Boys – Fight For Your Right (To Party)

Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

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Filed under health, Jack Fisher's Insights

Making Exercise Obsolete (While Still Looking Sexy)

About nine years ago, I finally came to the realization that I was not as healthy, attractive, or fit as I wanted to be. I was weak, undersized, unassuming, and got winded just by walking around the block a few times. I had next to no sex appeal and hesitated to remove my shirt at the beach. Sadly, it wasn’t until five years ago that I got serious about getting healthy.

Why did it take so long for me to get my act together? It’s simple. That kind of health and sex appeal takes work. It takes a lot of work. To look like I do now, I go running for at least a half hour, six times a week. I go to the gym and lift weights at least twice a week. I also try to limit my sugar intake and drink plenty of water.

While the results have done wonders for my confidence and my sex appeal, it still took a lot of work. Most people, especially those who were die-hard couch potatoes like I was, are reluctant to do that kind of work. It’s strenuous, inconvenient, and downright uncomfortable at times. Go try running four miles in 102 degree weather to see why. Yes, I’ve done that. No, it’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world.

It’s a big reason why most diet and weight loss efforts fail. It’s also why most people tend to break their New Years Resolution to get healthy. Given the extent of the obesity epidemic, it shouldn’t take that much to motivate people into being healthier. However, the work it takes to get that kind of sex appeal is pretty significant, especially when you lack the genetics of a supermodel.

This is now the part where I get peoples’ hopes up about a sexier future, but have to temper them because we’re not quite there yet. However, in reflecting on how hard I worked to reach my current level of health and sex appeal, I think this is something that should give hope those who have given up at becoming sexy something.

For years, diet companies and bad infomercials have been looking for that magic diet pill. You’ve probably heard and/or fantasized about it to some extent. It’s that special pill that you take one a day, change nothing about your lifestyle, and still lose weight. It’s magic because, by and large, that’s literally what such a pill requires in order to work.

Many people claim to have discovered it. Dr. Oz has discovered it no fewer than 16 times. The fact that obesity is still a problem and people still need to exercise in order to lose weight and gain sex appeal shows just how bogus these products are. If you’re depressed now, please bear with me because there is some good news here.

That magic pill that Dr. Oz keeps failing to find might actually be possible, minus the magic. According to research conducted at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, it is possible for a pill that will not only help them lose weight, but mimic the effects of exercise. It basically means that you can get the equivalent of a two-hour workout and never leave your couch. It’s a lazy person’s ultimate dream.

How is that possible, though? How can it not rely on magic? Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you already know how much I belabor the inherent flaws in the human body. The human body, despite its beauty and sexiness, is kind of crude. It can easily be tricked, hacked, and hijacked like an old computer running Windows 95.

According to the research, the miracle drug involved, unoriginally called GW501516, basically tricks the body into doing the same thing it does when you actually exercise. As it turns out, there are all sorts of basic, but varied process that happen when you work out. Your heart rate goes up, your metabolism spikes, and your body basically stresses itself into burning energy, becoming fitter and sexier in the process.

Those same processes are, like I said, fairly crude. Exercise is just the reaction your body has. If a pill can induce that same reaction, then your body won’t know the difference. It doesn’t have to do the same workout as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It just has to react as though it did.

If it sounds like cheating, that’s because it is, from a biological perspective. Unlike professional athletes and certain World of Warcraft players, the only consequence is washboard abs, toned arms, and legs that can kick a soccer ball across the field. Biology is pretty lousy at punishing cheaters, especially when it helps them look sexier and survive.

Now, if you’re wondering why this miracle drug isn’t already making billions turning everyone into fitness models, there’s a damn good reason. The drug, in its current state, has some nasty side-effects, one of which is cancer. No matter how much you want those washboard abs, cancer isn’t worth paying that kind of price.

However, the fact that pill worked is a proof of concept. Finding ways to mitigate those side-effects, or remove them entirely, is simply a matter of refinement, research, and testing. Given that the weight loss market it worth $66 billion, rest assured there are plenty of incentives to get this drug right.

It’s promising, but still a ways off, as many of the other advancements I’ve mentioned tend to be. However, unlike major breakthroughs such as smart blood, this one is probably closer than most. Given the incentives and the scale of the obesity epidemic, it’s only a matter of time before someone turns this into a true magic bullet for obesity.

It also means that, when that time comes, it’ll be possible for more people to get in shape, get sexier, and stay that way without maintaining a ridiculous workout routine. I’m not going to lie. If I could just take a pill instead of running 15 miles a week, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Who among us wouldn’t?

It might very well make the very concept of exercise obsolete. Who would want to go to the gym or run every day if they didn’t have to? While that may upset gym owners, I think a fitter, healthier, sexier population is a price worth paying.

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Filed under gender issues, Sexy Future