Living Longer, Running Slower

As the last of the baby-boomers approaches the half-century mark, science is picking up speed in its efforts to slow down aging. A recent article in the BBC News highlighted the incredible technology advances that will improve our quality of life as 100-year life spans become increasingly common.

Researchers are coming up with innovative solutions that will increase the durability of hip and knee transplants – so that they last the 100 million steps that a 50-year-old can be expected to take by their 100th birthday, for example, instead of the current 20 years — and improve the viability of transplanted tissues and eventually organs.

So I find it somewhat ironic that at the same time we’re extending our longevity, our general performance is slipping. At least that’s what Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister says in an interview with The Independent regarding the premise of his new book, “Manthropology:” when it comes to speed and strength, the ability of modern man pales in comparison to our ancestors in ancient cultures.

That’s right: apparently, not only would I have gotten thumped in an arm-wrestling match with a Neanderthal woman, former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger would have as well.

In one example of his extensive research, McAllister analyzed a set of footprints — preserved in a fossilized claypan lake bed from 20,000 years ago, of six Australian aboriginals chasing prey – and concluded that they had reached speeds of 37 kph running on a soft, muddy lake edge. In comparison, Usain Bolt, a.k.a. “The Fastest Man On Earth,” reached a top speed of 42 kph when he ran the 100 meter dash in 9.69 seconds at last year’s Beijing Olympics.

“With modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks,” says McAllister, “aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.”

With all our technological advances in equipment, training and nutrition — how could this be!? McAllister blames it on the increasing inactivity of our lifestyle since the industrial revolution.

“The human body is very plastic and it responds to stress. We have lost 40 percent of the shafts of our long bones because we have much less of a muscular load placed upon them these days.

“We are simply not exposed to the same loads or challenges that people were in the ancient past and even in the recent past so our bodies haven’t developed. Even the level of training that we do, our elite athletes, doesn’t come close to replicating that.”

This only confirms what I’ve always suspected: that sitting hunched over in front of a computer for hours a day eating jelly beans is detrimental to our growth as a species. Looks like we’re going to need an extra fifty years of active living just to bring our performance up to par with our ancestors.

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