Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fountain of Youth - Exercise

Fascinating article from Men's Health, not talking about the fountain of youth per se, but about the feeling among researchers that people were born to run. Titled, "Yes, You Were Born to Run" it speaks about the evolutionary adaptations that people have that provides proof we were meant to be running - a strong nuchal ligament to keep our head straight and focused when hunting prey (evidently pigs can't do that), a large number of long leg tendons which provide bounce so we can run (chimpanzees have short and few leg tendons which are fine for climbing trees), and the ability to perspire when running continuously (which provides the advantage of hunting speedy prey like a kudu which although faster than a human is unable to sweat and therefore needs to stop and therefore can be run down). More from the article:

  • According to a controversial body of research, is that our passion for running is natural. A small group of biologists, doctors, and anthropologists say our bodies look and function as they do because our survival once depended on endurance running, whether for long-distance hunts like the one Liebenberg witnessed or for racing the competition across the African savanna to scavenge a kill.
  • In his book Why We Run, the biologist and runner Bernd Heinrich, Ph.D., argues that something exists in all of us that still needs to be out chasing antelopes, or at least dreaming of antelopes. Without that instinct, "we become what a lapdog is to a wolf. And we are inherently more like wolves than lapdogs, because the communal chase is part of our biological makeup."
  • Anyone who has put in some miles knows how good running can feel, once it stops feeling bad. But beyond the way it feels, medical evidence also suggests that humans are built for endurance exercise. In response to a good training program, for instance, the left ventricular chamber of the heart can increase as much as 20 percent in volume. The chamber walls thicken, too. So the heart fills up faster and pumps more blood to the rest of the body. The coronary arteries also change, dilating more rapidly to meet the body's demand for oxygen. Endurance exercise won't make anyone live forever. But it seems to make the cardiovascular system function the way the owner's manual intended.
  • In the skeletal muscles, increased blood pressure causes new capillaries to emerge. The mitochondrial engines of the cells ramp up to consume energy more efficiently, helped along by an increase in the production of various antioxidants. These changes in the heart and extremities together typically boost the maximum amount of oxygen the body can consume each minute by 10 to 20 percent. For men who used to become short of breath slouching to the fridge for a beer, VO2 max can increase even more. Lapdogs start to function like wolves.
  • More surprisingly, the brain responds as if it was built for endurance exercise, too. researchers have discovered lately that exercise affects the function of 33 different genes in the hippocampus, which plays a key role in mood, memory, and learning. By stimulating growth factors, exercise also produces new brain cells, new and enhanced connections between existing cells, new blood vessels for energy supply, and increased production of enzymes for putting glucose and other nutrients to work.
  • People who exercise regularly perform better on some cognitive tests: Run more, think better, hunt smarter, eat better. Exercise also seems to buffer the brain against neurological damage, reducing the effects of stress and delaying the onset of Alzheimer's and other diseases. Most significant, exercise helps prevent and alleviate depression, which afflicts one in six Americans and costs $83 billion a year.

Not advocating everyone start running, you might need to check with your doctor first before doing any vigorous exercise, but what is clear is that people were built to move. In our American 21st century society where everything is built on convenience and relatively little work -- cars allow us to travel distances without walking / running, grocery stores and restaurants provide us food without us actually laboring in the fields to grow, harvest, and then prepare food, entertainment is becoming more sedentary with internet, video games, television, movies, instead of us actually participating in activity, and finally that for many of us work isn't as laborious as the past -- perhaps it isn't surprising as a nation we are getting fatter and less healthy than a generation before even though we understand more about health and illness.

It appears we were born to run or be active. Our society makes our bodies more like lapdogs rather than the wolves that our anecestors evolved to be to survive. The fountain of youth is very much staying active whether dancing, swimming, walking, running, biking, or whatever. It affects our bodies and our minds. Unlike any machine that exists, our body is dynamic and adapts to the challenges ahead, regardless of your age or whatever happened (or didn't happen) in the past. So even lapdogs have the potential to slowly become wolves again with increased activity. So start getting active!

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