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Why Do We Love Running?

Why Do We Love Running?

There is evidence to suggest that running may have been instrumental in making us quintessentially human. It is not surprising therefore, that as the ill-effects of our modern sedentary lifestyle add up, we turn to that most natural of human activities - running. Running is cost-effective, and can be done solo, anywhere. It burns calories, tones muscles, reduces stress, improves sleep and heals the body.

Have you ever wondered why running as a sport is so popular? Because, it comes naturally to us. Anyone–you, me, a 5-year-old or a 90-year-old–can run; we need not be taught how to. Running may have transformed into an endurance sport or recreational activity today, but research says that its roots may be as ancient as the origin of humans and it may have played an evolutionary role in how our bodies are shaped today.

We ran, therefore we are human

According to biologist Dennis Bramble of University of Utah and Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman–who assembled evidence that human anatomy looks the way it does because our ancestors were more likely to survive if they could run—the reasons why we started running are not clear. The possibilities, they say, are:

  • to pursue the prey before they invented weapons like bows, arrows, nets and spear-throwers, or
  • to beat hyenas and other scavengers to scavenge carcasses of dead animals, as scavenging was an easier and more reliable option to find food.

This study went against the conventional theory that running was a byproduct of bipedalism or the ability to walk on two legs. The researchers argued that there were about three million years of bipedal walking by our ancestors–the australopithecines–without ever looking like a human. If natural selection had not favored running, we would have looked a lot like apes still, they say.1

Evidence from the human skeletal system

Our skeletal system gives away more evidence for the evolution of running.

  • Human heads are stabilized via the nuchal ligament in the neck, which is present only in species that run, and we have a complex vestibular system that becomes immediately activated to ensure stability while running.2
  • The insertion on the heel bone for the Achilles tendon is long in humans, increasing the spring action of the Achilles3
  • Humans also have relatively long legs and a huge gluteus maximus muscle.4
    All of these changes are seen in Homo erectus, which evolved 1.9 million years ago.

Running for Fitness

It was in the 1960s that running (or more specifically jogging) started emerging as a mass physical fitness practice in America. Studies show that it was configured as a counter to the ill-effects of the sedentary habits that arose as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation.

Now, with over 2 million people running in the United Kingdom and an estimated 10 million in the Unites States, running is becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise. It is a feasible form of a vigorous-intensity physical activity; it is not time consuming, it can be done anywhere and at any time, and only a pair of running shoes is needed.5

Health benefits of running

The health benefits of running are well-researched and extensively documented. Some facts about the positive impact of running on the body are given below:

  • According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running, even five-10 minutes a day, at slow speeds, even slower than six miles per hour, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.6
  • Studies on mice suggest that long-distance running may have a beneficial impact on implicit memory and learning,7

Running as a practical sport

Apart from the many health benefits mentioned above, running is a go-to sport for many owing to various practical factors. Some of them are:


Probably the only time if you take up running will be when you invest in a good pair of running shoes. Running is a simple sport when compared to its alternatives and requires little or no fancy gear. You do not need to commit to a monthly or yearly gym membership and shell out money for it.

Do it anywhere

As opposed to other sports, you do not need a prescribed place to start running. You do not need to go to a tennis court, a golf course, a swimming pool or a football ground. Wherever you are, you just need to step out in a pair of running shoes to get a good workout. Now, more and more cities are installing running paths to encourage runners and ensure their safety.

Can be done solo

Running is also one of those few sports that does not necessarily need the company of a group. Of course, running with others may improve your performance and speed, but running solo also has its benefits. Some runners claim that it is a meditative experience, while others say that it is perfect for introspection and it does away with unnecessary competition. What more, you do not have to try and co-ordinate timings with your colleagues and friends to run. Wear those running shoes and get going.

Burns more calories

Running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. For every mile you run, you burn about 100 calories and running at a 10 per cent incline will double your calorie burn.

Reduces stress and improves sleep

It has been proven scientifically that running boosts the level of serotonin in teh brain. New studies reveal that regular exercise like running might actually help remodel the brain, making it calmer and more stress-resistant. Running is also known to have a positive effect on sleep by improving its quality as well as synchronizing circadian rhythms.8

There is no debating that running is beneficial to our wellbeing. With so many reasons to take up running as a sport, why would we hesitate at all!

References   [ + ]

1. Bramble, Dennis M., and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.” Nature 432, no. 7015 (2004): 345-352.
2. Chauhan, Parth R. “The First Humans—Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo.” PaleoAnthropology 87 (2011): 90.
3. Hackner, Stacey. “Did we evolve to run?”. Researchers in Museums, UCLA. Jan 2015.
4. Bramble, Dennis M., and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.” Nature 432, no. 7015 (2004): 345-352.
5. Ooms, Linda, Cindy Veenhof, and Dinny H. de Bakker. “Effectiveness of Start to Run, a 6-week training program for novice runners, on increasing health-enhancing physical activity: a controlled study.” BMC public health 13, no. 1 (2013): 1.
6. Lee, Duck-chul, Russell R. Pate, Carl J. Lavie, Xuemei Sui, Timothy S. Church, and Steven N. Blair. “Leisure-time rality risk.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 64, no. 5 (2014): 472-481.
7. Eich, Teal S., and Janet Metcalfe. unning Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64(5):472-481. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058.
8. Montaruli, A., E. Roveda, G. Calogiuri, A. La Torre, and F. Carandente. “The sportsman readjustment after transcontinental flight: A study on marathon runners.” Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 49, no. 4 (2009): 372.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.