Noakes T, Spedding M. Olympics: Run for your life. Nature. 2012;487(7407):295-6.  (open access).

Humans evolved to run. This helps to explain our athletic capacity and our susceptibility to modern diseases, argue Timothy Noakes and Michael Spedding.


The forthcoming Olympics in London will celebrate the performance capacity of humans and our remarkable ability to prepare our bodies and minds for specific tasks. But, at the same time as we are pushing our bodies to new limits in athleticism, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of relatively modern diseases such as obesity, diabetes and psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

We, the authors, were both considering the modern paradox of elite athleticism and growing susceptibility to disease when we met at a sports conference in Glasgow, UK, in 2010. Noakes is a sports scientist who has run more than 70 marathons and ultramarathons. He was presenting data suggesting that humans’ unmatched ability to dissipate heat when running, even when drinking sparingly, might have been a key element that enabled them to evolve from tree-living primates. Spedding, a pharmacologist presenting studies of how stress can increase the risk of psychiatric disorders, has run more than 100,000 kilometres and been a competitive athlete for more than 40 years. His brother, Charlie, holds the English marathon record and won Olympic bronze in 1984 by ignoring drink stations at crucial stages in the Los Angeles marathon. We began exchanging e-mails. Eventually, that correspondence coalesced into the theory we outline here.