From the best section of the NY Times, the health and fitness section.
Anyone whose resolve to exercise in 2013 is a bit shaky might want to consider an emerging scientific view of human evolution. It suggests that we are clever today in part because a million years ago, we could outrun and outwalk most other mammals over long distances. Our brains were shaped and sharpened by movement, the idea goes, and we continue to require regular physical activity in order for our brains to function optimally.
The role of physical endurance in shaping humankind has intrigued anthropologists and gripped the popular imagination for some time. In 2004, the evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis M. Bramble of the University of Utah published a seminal article in the journal Nature titled “Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo,” in which they posited that our bipedal ancestors survived by becoming endurance athletes, able to bring down swifter prey through sheer doggedness, jogging and plodding along behind them until the animals dropped.
The broad point of this new notion is that if physical activity helped to mold the structure of our brains, then it most likely remains essential to brain health today, says John D. Polk, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and co-author, with Dr. Raichlen, of the new article.
And there is scientific support for that idea. Recent studies have shown, he says, that “regular exercise, even walking,” leads to more robust mental abilities, “beginning in childhood and continuing into old age.”
Of course, the hypothesis that jogging after prey helped to drive human brain evolution is just a hypothesis, Dr. Raichlen says, and almost unprovable.But it is compelling, says Harvard’s Dr. Lieberman, who has worked with the authors of the new article. “I fundamentally agree that there is a deep evolutionary basis for the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind,”