Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Is Exercise Such a Chore?

Human evolution made us long-distance runners, but it didn’t make us like it.

A resident looks out from a window of his apartment at people running during the Virada Esportiva program in Sao Paulo, July 1, 2012. 

A resident looks out from a window of his apartment at people running during the Virada Esportiva program in Sao Paulo, July 1, 2012.

Exercise confers huge health benefits, so why does it often feel like such a chore? Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman of Harvard explains the paradox. He specializes in research on human movement and endurance running and is a keen long-distance runner.

Anil Ananthaswamy: Why did you start to study the evolution of running and exercise?
Daniel Lieberman: I got interested in how we hold our heads still when we run. It began when my colleagues and I were doing some experiments with pigs as models. It is very uncomfortable to watch a pig run: Its head bobs all over the place. But animals that are good at running, like us, are extremely good at keeping the head still, because it is important for gaze stabilization. We started thinking about humans and chimps, and came up with hypotheses about how we evolved head stabilization to run.

AA: Why do you think head stabilization evolved for running, and not another form of movement? DL: If you watch someone with a ponytail running, the ponytail bobs up and down. That's because of the pitching forces acting on the head. The head itself stays very stable. There are special mechanisms—the semicircular canals in human heads are greatly enlarged relative to apes, for instance—that give us a much greater ability to perceive and react to rapid accelerations of the head.

For the rest of the story: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/new_scientist/2013/06/daniel_lieberman_long_distance_running_we_evolved_endurance_and_dislike.html

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