Some people get an immense feeling when they are out for a run, labeled runner’s high. It makes us wonder, are we really build to run?
Running is a high impact activity, so you’d think it would do some damage on your joints and bones. But there’s a lot of people who love going for a long run and investigation shows that we may be made for it.
Though there are a few people in this world that take it to the maximum, the Trans Europe Foot Race ( TEFR ) drives runners to their limits. Over the course of 64 days, they will reach over 4,500 kilometers ( 2796 miles ). With such a test of stamina, it’s no wonder researchers were keen to know how this kind of long-distance running affects us. Over the course of the race, several runners had full body MRI scans every few days. As you might foresee and as other research shows, such high impact sport did a number on people’s joints.
In the first 2,000 kilometers, nearly all cartilage in their knee, ankle and hind-food joints showed serious degradation.
But here is the strange thing, even as the runners kept on running the other 2,000 or so kilometers they had left … their cartilage has begun to regrow! Even their achilles tendon flourished in diameter.
“The human foot is built to run”.
So is that true? Are we made for it?
Well according to a 2004 Nature study, yes we are. The scientists found positive physiological adaptations that make us efficient endurance runners. We’re so capable that we can outrun almost every creature on this planet.
This is what’s called the “Endurance Running Hypothesis.” It’s the belief that around 2 million years ago, our homo erectus ancestors hunted and chased after their meals across the African savannah. They didn’t have the proper tools to kill from a distance, so they did the next best thing. They hunted antelope or game by chasing them over long distances until the animal gave in from exhaustion.
What’s the evidence for this theory?
Well, one is the way we sweat. We evolved to chase our food in a really warm climate. Most animals release extra body heat by panting. While this might help your canine friend to cool down on a blazing summer day, panting actually disturbs breathing. So panting and running never go hand in hand. For example, dogs are not built to run long distances. They can only run for around 15 minutes before they have to reduce their speed. By losing our heat through sweating, panting doesn’t slow us down and we can run much further.
The 2004 Nature study pointed to the way our ligaments and tendons are assembled. The researchers point to an exact ligament, the Nuchal ligament that assists to stabilize our heads. Other running animals like horses, dogs, and cats have a version of this ligament, but our early ancestors didn’t have it. It only appeared around 2 million years ago when we traded the protection of the trees for the open savannah.
Butts for the win!
Even our butts support us in running, according to some of the same scientists. Other running animals have tails to help them balance. While humans are famous for lack of a behind attachment, our significant bottoms make up for it. No other ape has such grand hindquarters and upper sections of the gluteus maximus. And according to science, the butt doesn’t do much when we’re just walking. Its true power comes from when we start running. So one of the researchers states that the butt is a “basically an alternative for a tail”, it helps us balance when we run. Other evidence like short toes, big joints, and slow twitch muscle fibers adds more to the theory that we were build to run.
Even that “runner’s high” might be a present from evolution.
In research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, scientists found that some animals get a high from running and some don’t. A runner’s high is essentially a neurobiological reward. Like other reward mechanisms in our heads, it’s caused by a release of Endocannabinoids, the chemicals that produce those wonderful sensations. The researchers measured the degree of these chemicals in the brains of humans, dogs, and ferrets after that activity. And like we said earlier, it seems dogs and humans are one of the only animals who receive it in endurance exercise, ferrets do not. The researchers found that those endocannabinoids were released only in dogs and humans.
So, not only are we build for running, but we also enjoy it.