Study finds long distance running increases bone density and lowers cholesterol!
Our evolutionary adaptation to walk upright has bestowed upon us the remarkable ability to excel in long-distance running, even at the cost of raw speed.
Long distance running is a remarkable feat that humans excel at compared with other species. While our bipedal nature makes us about half as fast as other mammals of similar size, our ability to sustain long-distance running is unmatched. This unique ability has been attributed to various adaptations in our bodies, from our toes to our heads.
Our ancestors’ transition from arboreal living to bipedalism on savannas millions of years ago paved the way for our proficiency in distance running. Our upright posture granted us increased visibility to scan for potential threats and allowed us to cover twice the distance with the same energy expenditure.
From our toes to our heads, our bodies have undergone remarkable transformations to support long-distance running. Our feet have evolved with strong arches and resilient tendons for efficient energy absorption and propulsion. Our legs possess powerful muscles and tendons that propel us forward, while our upright posture minimizes the impact on our joints.
Our cardiovascular system, with its efficient heart and well-developed lungs, delivers oxygen-rich blood to our muscles, powering our endurance. And our sweat glands, unique among primates, allow us to dissipate heat effectively, preventing overheating during prolonged exertion.
Our feet, with their short toes and resilient tendons, provide stability and efficient energy transfer during running. Our powerful lower body muscles and flexible spine ensure smooth stride mechanics and efficient movement. And our cooling mechanisms, including sweat glands, a tall upright posture, and a flexible respiratory system, allow us to maintain endurance in hot conditions.
Our evolutionary history of persistence hunting, the practice of pursuing prey over long distances until it succumbs to exhaustion, has further honed our running prowess. This strategy, which relies on stamina rather than raw speed, has been documented across cultures and time periods.
The benefits of persistence hunting extend beyond sustenance. The “runner’s high,” a state of euphoria experienced during prolonged exercise, may have also played a role in our evolutionary success. This heightened sensory awareness could have enhanced our hunting strategies and contributed to our cognitive development.
Hunting provided our ancestors with a rich source of energy, which in turn fueled the evolution of larger brains. Our brains, intricately linked to our running abilities, have co-evolved with our physiology, enabling us to plan, strategize, and persist in the pursuit of prey.
Our spines possess intricate mechanisms known as central pattern generators that orchestrate our basic movements, such as walking and running. These generators continuously gather sensory information from our joints and the soles of our feet, guiding our forward motion with remarkable efficiency.
In our ancestral past, this automation granted our brains the ability to focus on more energy-demanding tasks, such as tracking prey while running. Today, our brains can still leverage this automatic movement control system even when we’re engaged in less physically demanding activities, such as walking or running while using our phones.
While modern technology has reduced our reliance on long-distance running for survival, it remains a highly beneficial form of exercise for our overall health. Research has shown that running can lower cholesterol levels and increase bone density, making it one of the simplest and most effective forms of cardiovascular exercise.
Therefore, even in our modern lifestyles, incorporating regular running into our routines can provide a wealth of health benefits, promoting both physical and mental well-being.
It still remains controversial whether exercise will help or adversely affect the bone formation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of common long-distance running on the magnitude of change in bone properties as measured by quantitative ultrasound (QUS) and bone biochemical markers. Subjects included 68 long-distance runners and 40 controls. Long-distance runners had been training in the marathon club for at least 6 months, the average period of exercise was 2 years, and running at 48.6±24.9 km per week. Otherwise, controls were people who had not experienced any specific sports before. Bone speed of sound (SOS) was measured by QUS at the distal one third radius and the mid-shaft of the tibia. Serum osteocalcin and urine deoxypyridinolin were measured in all groups. No significant differences were found in tibial and radial SOS between the two groups. Serum osteocalcin was higher in long-distance runners than control (P<0.05) in both the 30s and 40s of the participants, but urine deoxypyridinolin showed no significant difference between the two groups. It is concluded that long-distance running at the club level increases bone formation marker, but seems to do no harmful effect on bone properties as measured by QUS.