•  

Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 16, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

Running may be secret to health

My best friend’s dad is obsessed with Bruce Springsteen, so the other day when we were chatting after class and he mentioned something about being born to run, I made nothing of it. I brushed it off as one of his usual ramblings with clever wordplays and funny anecdotes, but when I listened longer I realized he was talking about something incredibly interesting and meaningful.

My friend was describing to me the journalist and running enthusiast Christopher McDougall’s discoveries about running and health as presented in a TED Talk.

McDougall questions how it is possible that humans have evolved past other mammals. We did not ever have claws or fangs or mechanisms for defense, so it seems odd that we were able to survive. The answer, he says, is sweat.

Humans, more so than other animals, are able to regulate body temperature with extreme precision. This being so, we had the ability to tire out our prey. Running for long distances was our key to survival because we could outrun both prey and predator. Sweating aided in this.

McDougall demonstrates the effects of running with information about the Tarahumara people. These indigenous people have been present in Mexico for over 400 years and have remained very secluded. They are well-known for their incredible ability to run an amazing 200 miles over a two-day period.

When studied, they were found to be in excellent health. The people never encountered things like cancer or heart disease or even mental illnesses like depression.

The conclusion that can be drawn here is that running positively impacts health. It allows body systems to be more regulated.

The Greeks used to talk about the balance of humors being essential to physical and mental health, and while we now know this explanation was not entirely accurate, it is still necessary for our body to have homeostasis. Running long distances, McDougall argues, allows for this. Maybe the secret to a happier, healthier life is running.

Most people are aware that exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins make us happy. What we see now is that running may have an even bigger benefit to humans.

We should take a hint from our ancestors, and from the Tarahumara people, and go for a run every once in a while. It’s true what Springsteen said: We are born to run.