nedjelja, 27. ožujka 2011.

Homo Sapiens Long Distance Running Ability

In a recently publishes article in the Journal of Human Evolution  (LINK) authors claim that  Neandertals, compared to people today, had tall heel bones that put a less energy-efficient spring in their steps while running. 

As you can see from the article above it's a great step foward better understanding of what eventually caused Neanderthal to "die out" and us to be on the top of the animal world and only hominid specie to survive. But it's just a small fragment of the story we try to uncover. Like what Richard Bradley once said: Keep at it long enough and something is bound to turn up. When we have "enough" facts their meaning will become evident; in otherwords, data precede and lead to theory. 

So to follow R. Bradley thought I want to add something to the story. That is work of P. Jones (2005) and some other authors Dietrich and McDaniel (2004) Sands and Sands (2009) and it's implications on the article we talked above. 

The uniquely human activity of long-distance running produces enhanced release of endorphins, extending the capacities of such extreme physical activity that was adaptive in flight from predators with the pain-numbing effects, facilitating the ability to continue to flee rather than succumb to pain, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, and so on.

A natural basis for inducing ASC (altered state of consciousness) and mystical experiences derives from endurance running, long-distance running, and ultraruning (Bramble and Lieberman 2004; also see Jones 2005).

Commonly known as the “runner’s high,” it is also associated with features typical of mystical experiences such as positive emotions such as happiness, joy and elation; a sense of inner peacefulness and harmony; a sense of timelessness and cosmic unity; and a connection of oneself with nature and the Universe. The processes by which mystical experiences are induced by running begin with the saturation of the sympathetic-ergotropic system. In addition to the activation produced in many body systems by the running, the prolonged activity forces a kind of meditative breathing in the regular methodic inhalation and exhalation. Physical stress activated by long-distance running provokes the release of the opioid, adrenaline, and noradrenaline neurotransmitters, and elevated body temperatures, oxygen depletion, and chemical and neuronal imbalances that can create unusual state of awareness. Jones placed ultrarunninghigh in the context of the extreme activation of the ANS (isceral nervous system - controls our internal organs and glands, involuntary movement and actions). Extensive running leads to a saturation of the SNS( sympathetic nervous system) and associated structures of the hypothalamus and amygdala (particularly the left hemispheric), a “spillover” effect that leads to the simultaneous activation of the PNS and the amygdalaand hippocampus areas of the right hemisphere. This simultaneous activation of what are usually separate functions and areas of the brain results in a saturation of brain areas responsible for general orientation and attention, visual integration, emotional processing, and expression of verbal-conceptual phenomena (Jones, 44). 

This results from a general overload of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and associated structures (hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus) and leads to a cessation of normal attention, emotional processing, and comprehension. This cessation of normal processes produces a sense of ineffability and a disintegration of the self, which is generally experienced as a condition of profound peacefulness (Jones, 44). It is the shutdown of the normal processes of the mind that lead to these special experiences.Sands and Sands (2009) proposed that the selection for long-distance running in Homo subsequently selected for a form of spirituality, a “horizontal awareness,” or biophilia, that operated through existing neurobiological reward systems. The “high” associated with long-distance running situated our ancestors in a dynamic environment within which they felt an intimate connection with nature. They reviewed evidence showing that the neurochemicals released during endurance running are tied into a variety of preexisting reward pathways, including monoamines (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine), endorphins, and endocannabinoids. There is evidence that running also releases serotonin and dopamine, both of which have positive effects on mood, enhance performance, and elicit our basic reward systems. Dietrich and McDaniel (2004) found that endurance runners have increases in an endocannabinoidanandamide, a substance that produces psychoactive effects similar to the THC of marijuana, including euphoria, a sense of transcendence, and a sense of contact with the divine. Thus a side effect of the acquisition of the capacity for long-distance running was a variety of mystical experiences and associated pleasurable sensations. This running capacity also provided a physical basis for the ritual capabilities of dance, as well as the expressive capacities of mimesis.


Jones, P. 2005. Ultrarunners and chance encounters with “absolute unitary being.”
Anthropology of Consciousness 15(2): 39–50.

Dietrich, A., and W. McDaniel. 2004. Endocannabinoids and exercise. British Journal of
Sports Medicine 38(5): 536–41.

Sands, R., and L. Sands, 2009. Running deep speculations on the evolution of running
and spirituality in Homo. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
34(4): 552–77

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