UA assistant professor of anthropology Submitted Photo

We were born to move and to move quickly, says researcher David Raichlen, and we abandon such movement at our physical and psychological peril.

Raichlen, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, is the author of several studies on the evolution of human biomechanics.

Among them is a study in the Journal of Human Evolution this month describing an experiment that concludes that modern man's shorter Achilles tendon probably gave our ancestors a "leg up" on those brutish Neanderthals when it came to endurance running.

Endurance running allowed early humans to run down prey, but eating well wasn't the only reward, says Raichlen. We evolved others.

Raichlen talked last week about how endurance running has evolutionary links to our general health and sense of well-being:

Why study evolutionary biomechanics?

"The switch to bipedal walking is really a fundamental characteristic of what makes us human. We've made a lot of compromises to be bipedal. We've altered our birth canal to be bipedal. It's a really important part of our biology.

"It is a piece of the puzzle of what makes us human, what makes us successful as a lineage. It explains how we make a living - how we get our food and move around the landscape."

We're not all using that capacity today, though?

"Society has basically made it easy to not move, or to mechanize movement. We make it very easy to basically not walk everywhere.

"We go to the grocery store and you can sit in one of those little carts, so even when you're foraging, you don't need to use your legs."

What are the consequences of that?

"It's really recent that we've figured out a way to just basically take out all our movement, and if you don't meet that with a change in your caloric intake, you get a problem.

"And I think, beyond just the obesity epidemic we see today, we know that exercise improves your psychological state and mental health. If people stop moving around, that's going to have an effect in a larger sense on people's psychological states, and it's going to have an effect on people's cardiovascular health - from the head down to the toes and everything in between."

What's next for you? (Raichlen is on leave this year, courtesy of a writing fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.)

"I'm writing up a project I finished last year on the neurobiology of exercise. I can't say too much about it.

"It's about how our evolutionary history as athletes has affected our neurobiology. Why does exercise feel the way it feels? Why do a lot of people enjoy exercising? Is there an evolutionary reason for that?

"Our neurobiology is wired for that. Our hearts are wired for that. Our metabolism is wired for that. We ignore exercise at our peril."

What do you do for exercise?

"I'm a runner. I like to run. I'm training for the L.A. Marathon so I'm running almost every day these days."

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Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.