You are designed to run.... FAR!
Hi there, Dr. Andray Voronov from Gravity Osteopathy here. Today, I want to share with you a remarkable aspect of our shared human heritage. This subject isn't often talked about, yet it's fundamental to who we are as a species. I'm referring to our natural propensity for running. Yes, that's right, running! You may think of cheetahs or antelopes when it comes to champion runners in the animal kingdom, but in the grand scheme of things, we humans are right up there in the long-distance running stakes.
We might not match a cheetah in a sprint, but when it comes to endurance running, humans can outshine most, if not all, other creatures on Earth. Now, you might be raising an eyebrow at this point. It's common to hear people say, "I'm just not a runner." Perhaps you've said it yourself. It's a common sentiment, but our physiology tells a different story. Once we dive into the specifics of our evolutionary adaptations, you might start to think differently about your running potential.
The Advantage of an Upright Posture
The first thing to consider is our posture. Unlike most animals, we walk and run on two legs - we're bipedal. This bipedalism gives us a distinct advantage in terms of heat regulation. When you're up on two legs, less of your body is exposed to the direct rays of the sun compared to quadrupeds (Carrier, 1984). This means less heat absorption, which in turn means less overheating. When you're running long distances, overheating is a genuine risk, so this posture gives us a significant advantage over our four-legged friends.
Regulating Heat with Sweat
Speaking of heat, we have a pretty unique way of cooling down - we sweat. Sweating is a remarkably effective method of heat regulation. Many animals rely on panting to cool down, but that's a method that doesn't work well during a run. Panting requires energy and can interfere with the crucial process of respiration. In contrast, humans can sweat while running, giving us a cooling mechanism that's both efficient and adaptable to different climates (Nielsen, 2010).
Bouncy Organs? Not for Humans!
Our internal anatomy gives us another advantage when it comes to running. In many animals, the organs inside the body move around a lot during running - think of how a dog's stomach seems to swing back and forth when it's running. In humans, this 'gut shake' is far less pronounced, thanks to our vertical posture and the stabilization provided by our muscles. This reduced internal motion makes our running gait smoother and more efficient (Bramble & Lieberman, 2004).
Room for Breathing
Next, let's talk about breathing. Our respiratory system is uniquely suited to endurance running. Quadrupeds have a problem in that their stride and breathing are tightly coupled - when they speed up, they have to breathe faster. In contrast, our head orientation is not linked with our stride, allowing us to breathe at variable rates. This decoupling allows us to optimize our oxygen intake, maintaining a steady pace over longer distances (Bramble & Lieberman, 2004).
The Nuchal Ligament
Another curious human feature is the nuchal ligament. This structure, which helps stabilise the head during running, is absent in most primates. However, you can find it in animals that do a lot of running. The presence of the nuchal ligament in humans suggests that our ancestors were active runners. By stabilising the head, it keeps our vision steady, preventing blurring and ensuring we can effectively navigate our surroundings, even at high running speeds (Bramble & Lieberman, 2004).
Persistence Hunting: A Testimony of Human Tenacity and Endurance
Persistence hunting, as the name implies, involves persistently and relentlessly pursuing prey until it is too exhausted to continue. This method of hunting may appear counterintuitive initially, especially considering that most of the animals our ancestors hunted were faster. How then did humans, with our relatively slower speeds, manage to make this technique successful?
The answer lies in the unique endurance features we've already discussed - our ability to regulate heat, our efficient cooling through sweat, our upright posture, and our superior breathing mechanisms.
When our ancestors embarked on a persistence hunt, it wasn't a sprint; it was a marathon. The hunters would set off in the heat of the day - a time when the animals they hunted would suffer the most from the heat. These hunts could last hours, covering long distances as they chased their prey.
As they ran, the pursued animals would overheat. They couldn't cool off by sweating like humans can. Panting, their primary method of cooling down, becomes much less effective during a prolonged run. Eventually, the pursued animals would become so overheated and exhausted that they would be unable to continue, making them easy prey for our ancestors.
One of the most stunning examples of modern-day persistence hunting comes from the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. The San people, also known as Bushmen, have continued this tradition. Despite the arid environment and harsh conditions, they carry out persistence hunting using minimal tools - just their keen knowledge of the environment and their own physical endurance.
One particularly documented hunt tells of a Bushman pursuing a kudu, a type of antelope, for about eight hours under the scorching desert sun. The Bushman ran the antelope into a state of hyperthermia, after which he could approach it closely and dispatch it safely (Liebenberg, 2006).
This method of hunting may seem extreme by today's standards, but it showcases the impressive running and endurance capabilities that are inherent to humans. Our evolutionary adaptations have equipped us to be phenomenal long-distance runners, able to outlast even the most robust and speedy animals.
So, next time you doubt your ability to run, consider these evolutionary advantages we humans possess. It's not just about being able to run; it's about understanding that we are, in many ways, designed to do so. Don't let the thought "I'm not a runner" hold you back. Embrace the idea that you're part of a species of endurance runners, and lace up those shoes!
Why do humans have a nuchal ligament? The nuchal ligament helps stabilise the head during running, keeping our vision steady. This suggests that our ancestors were active runners.
What is persistence hunting? Persistence hunting is a hunting strategy in which hunters use their endurance to run prey to exhaustion. This method is thought to have been used by our ancestors and relies on our superior heat regulation.
How does sweating help with running? Sweating helps to regulate our body temperature during physical exertion by allowing heat to escape. This process can help prevent overheating during long runs.
How does our posture aid in running? Our upright posture exposes less of our bodies to the sun, reducing the area that absorbs heat. This is particularly beneficial during long-distance running, where body temperature regulation is critical.
Book an appointment with us today at www.gravityosteo.com/book to find out how osteopathy can assist you in your running journey!
Bramble, D. M., & Lieberman, D. E. (2004). Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature, 432(7015), 345-352.
Carrier, D. R. (1984). The energetic paradox of human running and hominid evolution. Current Anthropology, 25(4), 483-495.
Liebenberg, L. (2006). Persistence hunting by modern hunter‐gatherers. Current Anthropology, 47(6), 1017-1026.
Nielsen, B. (2010). Heat acclimation–mechanisms of adaptation to exercise in the heat. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31(5), 316-322.
This post is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This post is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.