Monday, November 18, 2013

Our superpower: The ability to sweat.

Saw this TED talk recently, on a long flight.  Really caught my ear.  Not because I'm a runner, but much of what he was saying seems to apply to my long distance skating.

"Christopher McDougall: Are we born to run?"
http://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_mcdougall_are_we_born_to_run.html

The interesting thing I learned is that while humans don't have super strength or sharp claws, we do have something that other animals don't, not to the same degree anyway: the ability to sweat.  "Because the one advantage we have in the wilderness--again, it's not our fangs and our claws and our speed--the only thing we do really, really well is sweat.  We're really good at being sweaty and smelly.  Better than any other mammal on Earth, we can sweat really well!  But the advantage of that little bit of social discomfort is the fact that, when it comes to running under hot heat for long distance, we're superb, we're teh best on the planet."


Another interesting tidbit from the TED talk: We peak athletically around the age of 27.  But for certain endurance sports, such as running, we can maintain our performance quite well as we age.  McDougall says that we can maintain our 19-year-old performance level until we are 64 years old!  "64-year-old men and women are running as fast as they were at age 19."

Bottom line: I'll keep skating for a long time!  :)


I did a little bit of clicking around the Internet and found this article on our ability to sweat, how this may have been a biological adaptation we, as a species, made many years ago.

"Humans hot, sweaty, natural-born runners"
Article by Alvin Powell, reporting on a talk by Harvard Anthropology Professor Daniel Lieberman
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/humans-hot-sweaty-natural-born-runners/

"While more than a million humans run marathons voluntarily each year, most animals we consider excellent runners — antelopes and cheetahs, for example — are built for speed, not endurance. Even nature’s best animal distance runners — such as horses and dogs — will run similar distances only if forced to do so, and the startling evidence is that humans are better at it, Lieberman said."

"'Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,' Lieberman said."

"Though those adaptations make humans and our immediate ancestors better runners, it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game."

"Humans, he said, have several adaptations that help us dump the enormous amounts of heat generated by running. These adaptations include our hairlessness, our ability to sweat, and the fact that we breathe through our mouths when we run, which not only allows us to take bigger breaths, but also helps dump heat."

"'We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in,' Lieberman said."


Remember that the next time you go to the zoo.  Other animals have some fabulous gifts, but we humans are also physically impressive!