BIG PICTURE 15:
EXERCISE, ENERGY AND MoVEMENTSPRING 2012 | 5
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Long-term low gravity can seriously aect us
When we move around in low or zero gravity, the mechanical strainapplied to our skeleton is much lower than on Earth. This is why movingaround in low-gravity environments, such as space, gradually depletesbone mass. Muscle atrophy (wasting) is also a problem and begins evenon short missions (see more on muscles on pages 6 and 7). Crew on theInternational Space Station can spend six months in orbit and have toexercise or hours every day on special equipment to reduce muscleloss; they also have to ollow an exercise programme when they returnto Earth. A human mission to Mars would take almost a year, andmission planners will have to include some high-tech gym kit on thecrat to maintain the muscles and bones o those on board.Most animals get around neon our, six or eight legs. Sowhat made us bipedal, walkingand running on just two? It isunlikely that we will ever knowthe real answer, but by studyingour closest living relatives, thegreat apes, alongside ossil data,we can begin to build a pictureo how our common ancestormay have moved.One prevailing currenttheory is that we evolvedrom an ancestor that movedaround using quadrupedalknuckle-walking, much likeour Arican ape relatives(chimpanzees, bonobos andgorillas) do today. Later, ourancestors stood up and beganto move around on two legs. Various reasons or this havebeen proposed, includingimproved ghting ability,improved carrying ability orreaching ood on low branchesrom the ground. Recent ossilevidence, however, suggeststhat we spent more time in thetrees than previously thought.Orang-utans are the mostarboreal (tree-dwelling) o thegreat apes, and recent studiesshow that they use a human-like orm o straight-leggedbipedalism to move aroundon the very thin branches inthe trees to obtain ood. So, wemight even have been usingsome orm o bipedalism beorewe came down to the ground.
CHaNGE IS aFOOT
What changed when we began towalk on two legs?
The switch to modern human locomotiongoes along with a set o changes in ourskeleton, tendons, ligaments and muscles. We are adapted or walking, but we are alsoadapted or upright running. Compared toother running animals, humans are poorsprinters but outstanding long-distancerunners. We stay cooler and tire less quicklythan quite a ew animals that are preyor hunter–gatherer tribes. Some tribes,including those in the Kalahari Desert, stillcatch their meat by running down animalssuch as deer and antelope.One o our bipedal ancestors was
, which livedbetween two and our million years ago.Modern humans’ anatomy has changed,making running easier or us than it wouldhave been or
. Thesemodications include changes to the head,shoulders and spine, a longer trunk andlegs, shorter orearms and larger, moremuscular buttocks. We also have a longer,more elastic Achilles tendon and haveundergone changes to the heel bone andbig toe.There was also a complex serieso changes in the bones o the pelvis,including it becoming narrower, whichprobably gave increased running eciency.Because babies pass through the pelvis,humans had to enter the world earlier andearlier in gestation as their brains increasedin size. Otherwise, birth would havebeen too risky or mother and child. Ournewborn helplessness, and long dependencyas inants, may come rom the shit to anupright stance.
Age and diet can contributeto thinning bones
Bone strength is maintained i boneis replaced at the same rate as oldbone is removed. When the layingdown o new bone cells slackens,the bones become thinner. In ourlate teens, the mass and density o our bones reaches its peak, thenslowly declines with age. Olderpeople, thereore, have thinnerbones; combined with a decreasein muscle mass, this leaves elderlypeople prone to injuries rom alls.Some 75 000 broken hips are treatedin the UK per year – mostly in olderwomen. The depletion o boneis known as osteoporosis and ismore common in women, probablybecause o hormonal changeslinked to the menopause. Verystrenuous exercise can also disturbthe balance between bone removaland renewal in athletes. This putsthem at risk o stress ractures,which leave hairline breaks in bonesput under load.There is evidence that somezzy drinks can speed up bonethinning. In one study, regularcola drinking was linked tolower bone density in women, orexample, although the reasonsor this are somewhat unclear. Itcould be because cola eatures indiets that are otherwise low incalcium or because such drinkscontain phosphoric acid, whichis known to bind to calcium andmagnesium in the gut, reducingabsorption o the minerals.
Animals swim, creep, y, walk or run to fnd ood and shelter, to hunt and fght, and to escape rom danger.Humans move or the same reasons, but there are peculiarities about our locomotion. The reasons or the way we move and how we developed our upright gait are still argued about by researchers.
Mde to move
What are our skeletons or?
I your skeleton were taken away,your organs would be in an untidyheap on the foor. But your skeletonis much more than a simplesupport or your soter parts – bytransmitting orce and providingleverage, it allows you to move.The centres o the long bones(such as those in the arms and legs)are hollow, which makes themstrong yet light. The cavity insidethe bone is lled withbone marrow, whereblood cells are made.In childhood, theends o the longbones in our arms and legs, whichnormally go on growing or 17 yearsor so, are made mainly o cartilage.This soter tissue gradually becomescalcied as it turns into the solid,but still spongy, tissue o maturebone. By then, cartilage is let onlyat the ends, where it eases jointmovements. Even when calcied,bones are still living tissue. Bone –particularly the protein and mineralo the bone matrix – is continuallyremodelled and replaced inresponse to the stressesand strains o movement.
MaKE OR BREaK
What actors aect bone strength?
What we eat and how much we move about aects how strong our bones are. Jumpingstrengthens the bones more than running, or example, because the bones are under agreater load. More than two-thirds o bone by weight is made o calcium phosphate crystalsembedded in the matrix that bone cells build. High-calcium oods and drinks like cheese andmilk help raise peak bone mass, a key actor in delaying the onset o osteoporosis. VitaminD is important, too, because it helps calcium absorption. We make most o the vitamin D weneed through exposure to sunlight. Darker skin takes more time in sunlight to make vitaminD than lighter skin, so some dark-skinned people living in temperate countries may needextra vitamin D in their diet to make up or the lack o strong sunlight.MORE ONLINE: Read about which bones humans break most oten and why at
WaLK LIKE a MaN
What steps are involved in walking?
Walking may seem as simple as puttingone oot in ront o the other. Analysethe motion, though, and at any one timeyou are balanced on one leg as you moveorward. That leg pivots around the plantedoot and transmits orce rom the groundup to your hipbones, initially slowing youdown. As you slow, you also push upwards,then you start to accelerate again. Youmight simply all orwards, but you swingthe other oot in ront o you just in timeto begin the next step. The degree to whichbouncing, by fexing tendons in the leg andoot, is involved in walking (as it denitelyis in running) is still being studied bybiomechanics experts. Watch a toddler taking their rst steps,or someone recovering rom a strokelearning how to walk again, and it’s clearthat the co-ordination needed is trickyto master. Constant small adjustmentsare needed to keep a person upright andmoving orward. The patellar, or knee-jerk,refex is routed through the spinal nervesor speed so that it can contract thethigh muscles almost instantlywhen the oot is loaded. Without that contraction, youwould stumble at every step. Walking also needs goodproprioception, or a sense o exactly where your body is inrelation to your surroundings.Losing this sense is why you loseyour ooting i there is one more– or one less – step in a fight o stairs than you thought.Robots that mimic humanwalking are now available.For one example, see
C o l l i n s e t a l ( 2 0 0 5 ) , S c i e n c e
Studies have shwn that smkers have signicantly reduced ne masscmpared t nnsmkers. Accrding t estimates, this increases thelikelihd needing a hip replacement y per cent in wmen and percent in men.
Wrd nd Klesges. Clc Tissue Int ;:9–7
n a n o / i S t o c k p h o t o
TWO LEGS GOOD?
Why did humans evolve to be bipedal?