The Evolution of the Runner’s High


Ferrets don’t often figure in studies of exercise, perhaps because they don’t exercise much. They slink like fog through tunnels, sprint briefly over open ground and spend much of their time sleeping. They are, in biological terms, what’s called a noncursorial species, meaning that they are reluctant and lousy distance runners.

Which is why they were ideal subjects for a new experiment conducted at the University of Arizona in Tucson looking at whether humans and other species evolved to like running.

Many anthropologists and distance runners believe that running guided the evolution of early humans. We ran in search of dinner and away from predators.

But running is costly, metabolically. It incinerates energy. It can also cause injury. A twisted ankle would have removed your typical early human from the gene pool.

So why did our ancestors continue to run over the millennia “and not evolve other strategies for survival?” asks David A. Raichlen, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, who led the study, which waspublished in The Journal of Experimental Biology. “We wondered if natural selection might have used neurobiological mechanisms to encourage exercise activity,” he continues.

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