Endurance – are we just born with it?

Exploring the potential of the human mind and body

The evolution of human running is  the evolution of humans…

Evidence from evolutionary biology, physiology, and anthropology, has suggested that endurance running has been key, throughout human history, in the pursuit of prey. Key physiological adaptions have evolved over millions of years to benefit long distance running, from early hominins through to modern homo sapiens. Bramble and Lieberman (2004), postulate that homo sapiens are, as a species, designed for endurance, with highly developed, specialised features that may have provided a significant contribution to the evolution of the human form.

Human endurance capacity can be compared with, and often exceeds, that of other mammals. Important evolutionary, ancestral adaptations include upright, bipedal locomotion, a tall, narrow physique, long legs, and a developed achilles tendon providing energy return, and efficient heat loss, necessary to facilitate life as a hunter-gatherer. Whilst a moderately trained runner can easily complete 10 km, and with training, a half, or full marathon, other primates are fairly sedentary. Fast quadrupeds, including horses, have been beaten by well-trained runners over longer running distances (Brooks, 2012). It has been suggested that increased locomotor efficiency, along with the ability to obtain, store, and utilise energy, may have enabled early humans to persistence hunt, running prey to exhaustion and collapse, to meet metabolic costs of a larger brain (Pontzer et al., 2016).  

Bramble, D. M., & Lieberman, D. E. (2004). Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature,432(7015), 345-352. 

Brooks, G. A. (2012). Bioenergetics of Exercising Humans. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(1), 537-562. 

Hawley, J.A., Hargreaves, M.,  Joyner MJ., & Zierath, JR.  (2014). Integrative Biology of Exercise. Cell,159(4), 738-749

Pontzer, H., Brown, M. H., Raichlen, D. A., Dunsworth, H., Hare, B., Walker, K., . . . Ross, S. R. (2016). Metabolic acceleration and the evolution of human brain size and life history. Nature, 533(7603), 390-392. 

Schulkin, J. (2016). Evolutionary Basis of Human Running and Its Impact on Neural Function. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience,10.