Designed to run – destined to sit….?

50 miles. Man against horse. Who do you put your money on?

It’s a surprisingly even match. And it turns out that two legs is a better bet than four over distance on a hot day.

A skinny, hairless human actually has an advantage over other animals because of the way he breathes and his ability to cool off by sweating. Four-legged animals are restricted to one breath per pace, and have to slow down to pant and cool off when overheated.

Unlikely as it seems, the evidence suggests that we thrived as a species because of our ability to outrun our prey. To run far, not fast. Persistence hunting by running an animal to death probably involved scaring it into a gallop on a hot day. After ten or fifteen kilometres it would go into hyperthermia and collapse.

Not that many of us would fare any better on the savannah today…..

The ability to hunt gave us reliable access to protein and fat, which fuelled the growth of our brains. The aerobic exercise prompted neuronal growth. The necessity to plan the hunt and to develop the smarts to outwit our prey and evade predators, as well as cooperate with our tribe, spurred the audacious evolution of the naked ape.

But could it be that we’ve outsmarted ourselves?

Beautifully designed to move, very few of us live the sort of lives that do justice to the magnificent bodies we inhabit. A bit like using the Ferrari only for grocery shopping, filling up with the cheapest fuel, ignoring the engine warning light, skipping the scheduled oil-change – forgetting the thrill of the open road.

Running or walking in the fresh air, barefoot, for the sheer joy of it, sounds radical now that we can sustain life without moving our butts from the couch……

We’ve even bought the idea that we need special shoes to run in, which has radically altered the way that we run, leading to injury, the sale of orthotics, and the suggestion that perhaps we are not really designed to run after all.

Technology has made us lazy, and it’s slowly killing us. During the evolution of our ancestors the ability to run was an imperative. In a dangerous and unpredictable world it was also an imperative to rest when we got the chance. We needed to make use of every opportunity to recharge so that we had enough in the tank to take off and run for our lives in an instant.

Modern society has removed the imperative to run, while at the same time providing an ideal environment for the flip-side – the imperative to rest our bodies from physical exertion.

We can work, socialise, and be entertained without having to do much more than reach for the keyboard or the remote control.

Research conducted into the effects of zero-gravity on the health of astronauts shows similarities to the effects of prolonged sitting.  Loss of muscle-mass and bone-density, an accumulation of fat, problems with balance, reduced sensitivity to insulin, aching joints, tiredness, and more.

These factors are key in determining at what age you will become dependent on assistance with daily tasks. Simply being able to stand up may be something you’ll need help with if you don’t maintain strength and muscle-mass in your arms and legs. Use it or lose it!

The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.  ~Buddha


(References: “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall, and “Sitting Kills Moving Heals” by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D. former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division)

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Photo credit:  Colleen Parker / Appaloosa Museum, Moscow Idaho

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