Are Humans Born Runners ? (Audio Available)

(This post is accessible by listening. Please scroll to the end of article for the link to audio)

My friends and I usually cook food together for dinner. Today we decided to cook some food which can be cooked quickly and easily. Hence, we got time for some food for thought as well ! While cooking , I said casually to my friend, “It is very hard to sit all the time on chair during our jobs !”.  He replied,” We humans (homo-sapiens) are born to run, not to sit”.  This was quite surprising for me and triggered more curiosity about the topic.

Me: “What did you just say, do you mean it literally ?”

X: “Yes. I mean it. Why ?”

Me: “I understand that always sitting in the same gesture/position reduces blood flow due to which you feel sense less. Also, in between we should do some exercise to relax the muscles and again start working. But as per your statement, it appears to me like humans should run frequently and a lot ! I am not sure if this is what you meant. “

X: “I read this in a book. I’ll tell you the name of book later. Do you want to know more ?”

Me: “Yes please proceed. I am very curious about the meaning of your statement.”

X : “According to the book, some scientists have concluded based on evolution that human beings are capable of running better than many other living beings.”

Me: ” But if we are so good, then why are we not fast as cheetah or a horse or a dog ? Also what parameters decide this ?”

X : “So as I was saying, scientist proposed a theory based on research that was carried out over a long period of time. You probably know about the survival of the fittest theory. Every living creature has to struggle for survival. Being part of carnivores family, we also used to hunt for food, the basic need for survival.  Now take the case of cheetah, it runs very fast around 110 mph to catch its prey. If cheetah is successful then it catches it prey within minutes. It cannot ever run for longer duration because the energy needed to run that fast cannot be produced for a longer time. Same is the case with other fast running animals.”

Me : “That is okay. We cannot run fast. So you are probably trying to say that we can run for longer duration than others who run fast. But I am still not getting why you are saying that we are overall better runner than these living creatures.”

X: “Hunting is called successful when a hunter catches its prey. There are two ways, either you catch the prey by running faster or you let the prey get tired and then catch it. The later one is adopted by humans for hunting. Humans can run for very long time without getting tired. In comparison to that, prey will definitely get tired and you can hunt them down easily.”

Me: “If my prey runs faster than me, within a period of time then eventually the distance between us will increase and I will loose line of sight of my prey. Then how much energy I have doesn’t matter as I don’t know where my prey has gone !”

X: “This is what scientist found out when they tried to catch an Antelope by this way of hunting. They could not trace the antelope. Many times they will start chasing a different antelope. Then they thought, in order to have successful hunt coordination is also important. One human used to run to certain distance only keeping track of antelope, then pass the information to others. After practicing this type of relay running strategy, they were able to catch the antelope!”

Me: “Bro, now it sounds like you are deviating from the statement which you made in the starting of conversation. The success they achieved is not only because they can run for long time, but they used mapping techniques to trace the antelope which played an important role.”

X: “But, they ran for longer period of time than the antelope.”

Me: “I agree that they ran for longer duration. But now strategic planning helped them to accomplish the target as I understood.”

X: “Let me give you one more basis of comparison. You know that when anyone runs then it need to cool the body surface by exchanging heat, right ?”

Me: “Yes, true! When we run, we sweat. The sweat evaporates taking off heat from our body and thus keeping it cool.”

X: “Exactly. Now let me explain a bit further. Animals used to get cool with the technique called “panting”. This term refers quick breath which help animals like cheetah to exchange the heat generated. So the breathing, running speed, cooling of their body is interrelated. The case with humans is different. As you mentioned, we sweat which helps us to keep our body cool. Additionally, due to less hair compared to animals and large surface area for the heat to dissipate, the cooling process is efficient. More importantly, the sweating is not related to our breathing cycle. They are decoupled. This feature enhances the capacity of humans to run for longer duration. “

Me: “So, I agree that humans can run for longer time. As you said, the sweating helps to keep the body cool and helps us to get going, if we have enough energy to keep running though.”

X: “I would like to add one more point. As you know, the muscles play an important role in any kind of exercise. The structure of our body is made in such a way that, they help in running more than they do walking. When you run, the ligaments and muscles coordinate and provide you the strength to run effectively with minimum loss of energy.”

Me: :”As per the discussion up to this point, we can say that humans can run longer distance. But, that is not only enough, we need to coordinate for tracking the prey. Without this feature we may be at the losing side in the race of evolution. Now, if we say that evolution happened like you mentioned, humans have to run, they why everyone cannot run a marathon these days ?!”

X: “The evolution happened over a long time and due to our survival requirements. Now you do not have the need to hunt. So, according to situation we do not care to utilize the caliber we possess. And slowly it may disappear.”

Me: “Now, as you said, if we have the structure built like that, if I want to start hunting right now will I be able to do it. I am sure I will be tired may be after 10 minutes of running. Forget about catching anything !”

X: “That is what I want to explain. You have not ran your whole life and you want to be the most successful persistent hunter that is not possible. Since you are not in habit of running from childhood the muscles behind your leg and the ligaments have not grown strong enough. This is the reason, this theory is not applicable on you. 😀 “

Me: “Okay! So, the take away is humans can run more than they are capable now. If we explore the capability when we are kids, then the capability can be enhanced and can be used for some useful actions.”

X: “Yeah. Running anyways is a healthy habit. If we practice brisk walking right from our childhood. Slowly, try to run in a proper manner then one day we will see the change in our own stamina of running. It will also help everyone of us to stay fit and healthy. Also its never too late for anything! Many people run marathons, even if they start training really late in their lives. You can start now ! You have the evolutionary advantage going your way !”

Me: “Thanks for the insight. Nice to have a discussion with you. By the way you have not mentioned the name of the book!”

X : “Ohh sorry! The name of the book is “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.”

So the discussion ended when we finished our dinner.  What I figured out from the discussion is that since we are not in a society where hunting is necessary which was the case earlier, we have forgotten the capability our ancestors had. We can still try to recover it back. Running in a proper posture will keep you away from diseases like obesity, high cholesterol and help you to remain fit and stay healthy. Have a safe and happy running.

Last but not the least, I would like to thank Vishal my colleague who has discussed with me the topic.

References:

  1. http://www.chrismcdougall.com/born-to-run/
  2. http://www.chrismcdougall.com/born-to-run/
  3. https://www.quora.com/If-prosthetic-legs-for-runners-are-optimized-for-running-and-humans-evolved-to-run-down-their-prey-as-proposed-by-Born-To-Run-and-so-on-why-dont-our-legs-look-more-like-prosthetic-legs-or-vice-versa
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endurance_running_hypothesis
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/health/27well.html
  6. Image source: https://www.emaze.com/@ACZWCCLF/How-much-faster-can-we-run?

I would be really happy to have MANTHAN over this and other things. Feel free to comment and discuss.

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