Science and technology.
Exercise and addiction.
People, it seems, have evolved to be addicted to exercise.
AS THE legions of gym bunnies and jogging enthusiasts who race out into the spring sunshine every year clearly demonstrate, running can be fun. More specifically, running triggers the release of brain chemicals called endocannabinoids that create a potent feeling of pleasure. As their name suggests, these endocannabinoids work in the same way as the active ingredient of marijuana.
From an evolutionary standpoint this surge of endocannabinoids, and the "runner's high" it creates, make sense. For ancient humans, remaining fit enough to run after game and away from predators and enemies was vital for survival. Yet whether other mammals are also driven to exercise by endocannabinoids has remained a mystery. Now a study led by David Raichlen of the University of Arizona has revealed that the runner's high does exist in other species, but not in all.
You expect me to what?
Dr Raichlen hypothesised that endocannabinoid-driven exercise highs would be found in those mammals that gain an evolutionary benefit from being fast on their feet: antelopes, horses and wolves, for example. However, he also thought that they would not be present in those which are known for being quick and agile, but not for running, like ferrets. To test these ideas, he and a team of colleagues devised an experiment that monitored the endocannabinoid levels of different species after they had been walking or running on a treadmill.
The experimental animals in question were ten people, eight dogs and eight ferrets. Dr Raichlen had them run or walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Since running and walking speeds differ from species to species, the speed at which the treadmill moved was varied so that it raised the heart rates of the different participants to the same level. Running speeds were thus set at 2.5 metres a second for people, 1.83 for dogs and 0.84 for ferrets. Walking speeds were set at 1.25 metres a second for people and 1.1 for dogs. The ferrets proved too easily distracted to walk consistently on the treadmills and were thus left to sit quietly in their cages for this part of the study. Each participating animal ran for one session and walked for one other, and did so on separate days, to avoid exhaustion. Before and after each session, blood was drawn from each and the endocannabinoid levels in it were measured.
The researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Biology that, after 30 minutes of walking (or sitting in a cage), participants' endocannabinoid levels did not rise. After running, however, the average human's endocannabinoid levels rose from 2.4 picomoles per millilitre (pmol/ml) to 6.1. Dogs showed a similar trend, with levels rising from 2.4 pmol/ml to 8.0. Ferrets were different. Although they did show an increase, from 3.0 to 3.9 pmol/ml, this was not a statistically significant rise. These findings suggest that dogs experience a "runner's high" but ferrets do not.
研究人员在《生物学实验》杂志中提到，在经过30分钟的行走（雪貂是呆在笼中）之后，参加实验的动物的endocannabinoid水平并没上升。然而在奔跑过后情况则有所不同：那10个人的平均endocannabinoid水平从2.4 pmol/ml上升到了6.1 pmol/ml。狗的变化趋势与人类似——由2.4 pmol/ml升至8.0 pmol/ml。唯独雪貂例外。他们的endocannabinoid水平虽亦有所上升——3.0 至 3.9 pmol/ml，但仍处于统计学上可不被纳入考虑的范围内。这些发现表明狗中同样存在着"赛跑者的亢奋"现象，而雪貂则没有。
Dr Raichlen argues that it makes sense for ferrets not to have systems that reward cardiovascular activity, since such exercise consumes a lot of energy, may cause injury, and is not crucial to the stealthy hunting technique of sneaking down burrows and killing rabbits in their sleep. What is not clear is whether the endocannabinoid reward is an ancient mechanism that has been lost on branches of the mammalian tree that do not need it, or is something that evolves quickly in species which become active. Given that humanity's arboreal simian ancestors would presumably have had little need to run, it is probably the latter. But to be sure Dr Raichlen will need to put animals far less co-operative than ferrets on the treadmill.