Jun 30, 2021

Tote That Barge! Lift That Bail! Add Years to Your Life!

A Norwegian study finds physical work is healthy (for the Norwegians in the study, anyway)

By Ed Goldman
When I first read the headline, “Active Jobs Could Lengthen Your Life,” I’ll admit my first reaction was “No, they just make your life seem longer.”

The article appeared in a recent New York Times “Well” column—which is focused on health issues, of course, but still seems like it should be followed by three dots to indicate the uncertainty of things. President Reagan used to begin a lot of his answers at news conferences this way (“Well…”) and I’d always thought it was a charming way for him to indicate he was giving the question a lot of consideration. We’ve since learned that while this could have been marginally true, it was also his way of buying a little time because he didn’t really understand the question. (This is not a snarky remark about his suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, which took his life. I recall him doing this when he was governor of California decades earlier. However, if you feel compelled to report me to the Woke Police, I promise to go along quietly.)

Edgy Cartoon

When He Was Semi-Tough

“Active jobs,” in the context of this article, mean manual labor—like delivering furniture and appliances, or working in ag, construction, housekeeping or gardening. Or as an electrician, roofer, plumber or nurse. Or fighting fires and wars.

For comparison’s sake, I should add that fleeing from grand jury subpoenas and running away from family reunions don’t count as active jobs, mainly because while both may feel essential they’re also somewhat voluntary.

In the old days—i.e., the last time someone got a government grant to study the obvious—“active jobs” and the toll they took on the human body were thought to be possible precursors to early graves. The new study was led by Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports and Sciences (my theory is that he got his first name while simultaneously introducing himself as he lifted a very heavy book carton while moving into his faculty office).

Ekelund’s crew studied nearly 500,000 Norwegian workers ”whose jobs involve frequent moving and lifting,” according to the article, and found that these people “tend to live longer than those whose occupations are deskbound.”

Well, I’m not entirely sure about this. I spent two summers in my teens in Southern California working as a mover’s “helper” at Bekins (a helper does just as much lifting, if not more, as the actual movers do but don’t get to drive the truck and honk the big air horn to frighten people driving small cars). My dad got me the job: he worked as a claims adjuster for the company after retiring as a New York city firefighter and moving our family out west.

A few of the drivers were in decent shape but a few were, to be charitable, somewhat beefy. I attributed this to their tradition of stopping off to pick up RC Colas and snacks after each stop. I always wondered if RC and Bekins had made a secret pact somewhere along the line because no driver ever asked me to run into a liquor store and return with a Coke or Pepsi.

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It may have been an early case of mutual product placement. While I never noticed, maybe each RC bottle’s label said, after revealing its alarming calory count and sugar content, “Remember: Next time you’re fired from your desk job or thrown out of your house, for God’s sake, call Bekins. We have a lot of cartons.”

Oddly enough, even with all those RCs and snacks, I still lost some weight during my two summers as a moving guy. It could’ve been because when I wasn’t snarfing up those bad things I was hoisting (and dropping) refrigerators, sectional sofas, king-size box springs, chests of drawers that felt as though they were composed of lead, and even a few ceramic sculptures. Biceps replaced my uni-ceps, abs my flab.

The best part of a physical job, though, was how well it made me sleep at night. Other than in my school days—and my second year as a reporter, when I worked a 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift because my duties suddenly included waiting at a bus stop at dawn for a driver to hand off the daily shipping table to me—I’d always been a night owl. 

But in the moving business, I had to show up at the truckyard at 7, presumably to allow plenty of time for us to drink coffee, get our assignments and grouse about management. It was the only time in my life I was a Teamster. And even though these mandatory pre-work gripe sessions lasted only about an hour—and we weren’t getting paid to attend them—they felt like work. Which is to say, they always seemed longer.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

Years ago, Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” The saying caught on and was condensed to “Everybody has 15 minutes of fame.”

I’m blessed in my lifetime to have had my share of the spotlight for 15 minutes many times over. Pride and fame can be serious to the ego and even detrimental. The real goal is to be clear about who you are and what you’re all about, so the spotlight just becomes some icing on the cake of life and doesn’t drive or define your view of your self-worth.

A special moment in my lifetime happened like this: Malcolm Hotchkiss, my banker co-worker and, full disclosure, husband, successfully ran United Business Bank as President/CEO for over 20 years, sold the bank, and after a few short years of continued growth the company, called BayCom Corp., became publicly traded in 2018.

When standing in Times Square in New York, chatting with coworkers, I suddenly looked up and saw my husband and me appear on the Nasdaq jumbotron. Appearing there is sort of a rite of passage for a successful businessperson, a corporate blessing that says a company you are a part of has reached a pinnacle of success.

I was there when the BayCom CEO George Guarini rang the Nasdaq bell. There’s something childlike and simple about ringing a bell when something significant has been accomplished. When a company crosses over to a billion dollars in size, ring a bell so everyone hears.

People will want to know why the bell was rung or why you are on a jumbotron and you’ll have your 15 minutes of fame. And your employees will all come out of their workspaces to hear the announcement and cheer each other on.

This NASDAQ ritual builds corporate relationships, promotes growth and success, and recognizes companies in a fun and inspiring way. I’m grateful to have had the chance: the seconds it took to look up and see my husband and me smiling down at New York’s Times Square will forever be among my 15 minutes of fame.

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