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Science

Walk or Run: Are We Built To Be Lazy? 189

Posted by samzenpus
from the taking-it-easy dept.
sciencehabit writes "A quick visit to Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks shows just how many ways humans (or at least British comedians) can think of to travel from point A to point B. So why don't we high kick our way to the bus stop or skip to the grocery store? New research suggests that there may be a deep biomechanical reason governing the gaits we choose in different situations. In short, people consistently choose to walk when they need to travel slower than 2 m/s to reach their goal in the given time; when they needed to move about 3 m/s or faster, they ran. But in between—in 'the twilight zone between walking and running'—people tended to mix the two gaits, minimizing their energy expenditure. The findings could help scientists design better prosthetic limbs and even build more human-like robots"
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Walk or Run: Are We Built To Be Lazy?

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  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:32PM (#42745633) Homepage Journal

    It is tempting to say we're built to be lazy. Just look at all the slothful people. On the other hand, being able and willing to NOT be lazy when the time comes has a distinct evolutionary advantage, just as saving energy when one needs to does. I supposed we're meant to be a blend.

    • by epiphani (254981) <epiphani.dal@net> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:52PM (#42745821)

      I actually had the opposite reaction. I'm 31, and I constantly fight the urge to run everywhere. I remember all through school, even into early highschool, I'd run everywhere I wanted to go.

      Then it was uncool to run. Then inappropriate. Then unprofessional. A year ago, effectively 15 years after I stopped running everywhere, I started running for exercise. I'm getting back into shape. And I'm finding it annoying that I can't just run all the time - I'll get sweaty or smelly, and that's just socially unacceptable.

      I'm pretty sure we're all meant to run a LOT more than we do - and we've forced ourselves to stop due to social pressure.

      • You like to run. That's cool. I've got a great friend from high school who was a cross-country runner back then and is now a marathoner (we're in our late 30s). He likes to run too. Me, on the other hand, I hate running. I've never been good at it, I've never been fast, and it always makes me feel like crap to do it. Combined with a family history of bad knees, there's no way I'm running anywhere. But I do walk awfully fast...
        • by epiphani (254981) <epiphani.dal@net> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:07PM (#42745943)

          You misunderstand. I'm impatient. Now that I'm actually capable of running a reasonable distance, I get annoyed walking because I could be getting there faster!

          • You must live somewhere cold...

            Actually, I think you're probably a really good example of someone who's at the other end of the spectrum from obesity - the obese have metabolisms which over-retain energy, while people like you tend to under-retain it. The latter definitely makes you look better, at least until a famine comes around...
            • by BitZtream (692029)

              Most (not all, but certainly most) obese people don't have metabolism problems they have gluteny problems. They are fat asses, nothing more.

              When the famine comes around, said person who is inshape will out last Mr Obese lazy bastard because the guy who can run, can beat out the fat guy.

              The fat won't keep him alive long enough to get in shape and compete with the guy who already is. The fat guy won't have the skills to compete for food either.

              Contrary to popular believe, being obese doesnt' help you survi

              • by X0563511 (793323)

                That's funny. I'm "obese", and I currently eat only one or two meals worth of food in a given day. So, I have a gluttony problem? (notice the correct spelling there, since I'm already being a dick (as you are))

              • Spoken like someone who's never been overweight by more than a couple of pounds, or perhaps has always struggled to gain weight. One of my college roommates was like that; his lunch plate was piled high with potatoes and meat covered in sauces, and he always had a piece of pie or cake and usually a cookie too, for dessert, and he didn't do any exercise, but at 6'2" he never weighed over 140 pounds.

                Are some people gluttonous fatasses? Yes, I suppose so. Funnily enough, though, if you eliminate sugar and st
          • by wvmarle (1070040)

            Get yourself a bicycle. Way faster and less energy expenditure (i.e. less sweating) than walking or running.

          • by quadrox (1174915)

            I know exactly how you feel, been like this all my life. When I'm walking with other people I constantly have to remind myself to slow down because they can't keep up.

            • by TeknoHog (164938)

              When I'm walking with other people I constantly have to remind myself to slow down because they can't keep up.

              Ditto. As a friend of mine used to say: Long limbs and a short temper.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Look up "Runner's high". You always want to run because you crave that high again. Bring a change of clothing and learn to take a dry or sponge bath. You won't be sweaty or smelly anymore in social settings.

        There are some credible theories that we evolved and are Born To Run (name of a good book). Research it if you want to know more. Do you want to know more?

      • Same here.
      • by Smauler (915644)

        I'm pretty sure we're all meant to run a LOT more than we do - and we've forced ourselves to stop due to social pressure.

        Hate to break it to you... but we're not. Humans run worse than just about every vaguely similar sized animal on the planet. The reason that we are the way we are is most definitely not because we can run fast.

        It's up to you whether you run - I hate running personally, but love swimming, football (yes I know that involves running), rowing, tennis (see before). My knees are not cut ou

        • by scheme (19778) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:37AM (#42748295)

          I'm pretty sure we're all meant to run a LOT more than we do - and we've forced ourselves to stop due to social pressure.

          Hate to break it to you... but we're not. Humans run worse than just about every vaguely similar sized animal on the planet. The reason that we are the way we are is most definitely not because we can run fast.

          It's up to you whether you run - I hate running personally, but love swimming, football (yes I know that involves running), rowing, tennis (see before). My knees are not cut out for long distances.

          Actually, if you look at the stats, people tend to be the most efficient runners on the planet (with kangaroos coming in second). Although quadrupeds can run faster, they tire out much more quickly as well as overheat. The end result is that over longer distances (45+ km), humans are pretty competitive with animals such as horses. There's actually a hunting technique that's been used called exhaustion hunting, where people chased a deer or whatever until it collapsed from exhaustion and then ran up to it and killed it. It works because running on two legs is more efficient than running on 4 legs and because people have a few adaptations (e.g. hairless skin, etc.) that allow them to get rid of heat more easily.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          You could not possibly be more incorrect.

          Humans are the most efficient running animals on the planet. We can literally run down ANY creature on the surface of the Earth. We can literally kill creatures by running them into heat exhaustion and in fact still do in many parts of the world such as Australia and the plains of Africa.

          We aren't the fastest, but we are by far the most efficient long distance runners to exist.

    • Old bull and young bull are on top of a hill. They look around and see a herd of cows. The young bull gets all excited, says: 'I'm going to run down there and fuck a cow'. The old bull says: 'I'm going to walk down there and then fuck _all_ those cows.'

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      It may be tempting, but its certainly shines of ignorance.

      There is no other animal on the planet that can run for the distances we can. We are the definitive long distance runners of the planet. Our ancestors on the plains of Africa hunted not by being quicker than other animals but by running them down until heat exhaustion took its toll and practically killed them without a weapon.

      I didn't RTFA but the summery sounds like regurgitation of shit I've known since high school.

      We aren't built to be lazy, we'

  • Fuck Sake (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@@@aol...com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:37PM (#42745669) Journal

    It's not called being lazy. It's called SURVIVING on LIMITED RESOURCES, which is what Humans had to do for hundreds of thousands of years before developing the technology to increase food availability.

    Expending the least amount of energy was called SURVIVAL.

    We really have completely lost touch with reality, haven't we? We are living in the idiocracy.

    • Angry much?
    • by schlachter (862210) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:54PM (#42745841)

      It's not called being lazy. It's called SURVIVING on LIMITED RESOURCES, ....

      And I totally pictured a bunch of nerds in their parent's basements living off energy drinks and cheetos...reaching for their mouse

    • Re:Fuck Sake (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mister2au (1707664) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:08PM (#42745947)

      I think there is a more subtle point to the study ...

      Energy expenditure for walking above 2m/s (7.2kph / 4.5mph) increases quite dramatically and for above 3m/s (10.8kph / 6.8/mph) you physically need to be running.

      In the transition (between 2-3 m/s) it seems to be more economical to access the low energy walking at low speed supplemented by whatever limited running is needed. For example, to average 2.5 m/s (9kph or 5.6mph) it is better walk half of it at 2m/s and run half at 3m/s rather than power-walk or slow-jog at 2.5 m/s consistently.

      Point of the study is that people tend to naturally optimise this ... or conversely i would argue that people are poor at judging speeds and have to increase/decrease to make the time limit - it would be interesting to repeat but give people a pace-indicator and see if people still maintained alternating speeds or changed instead to a steady pace.

      Obviously the title is stupid and really should been focused on how WELL people optimise their energy output not whether people do.

    • Not just humans, I would argue most (if not all) life expends as little energy as necessary.
      • by Leuf (918654)
        Please explain this to the squirrels and chipmunks in my backyard that dart and twitch around like meth heads on a sugar high.
    • by quantaman (517394)

      The headlines are just flamebait to get page views and comments.

      But there's nothing wrong with the science, sure it confirms something that seems pretty obvious, but it's important for science to do that sometimes.

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      And Cliff Young proved it [badassoftheweek.com] long ago without resorting to random CAPITALIZATION that sounds like RANDOM SCREAMING to the inner voice that most of us USE when reading your blimey POST.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It's not called being lazy. It's called SURVIVING on LIMITED RESOURCES, which is what Humans had to do for hundreds of thousands of years before developing the technology to increase food availability.

      Lazy is when you're too lazy to open the dictionary to see what lazy means. It means "averse to work" (or prone to slowness or idleness) which is what you are when you're hungry, which is to say it's called being lazy. You could also say a lizard is lazy, and you'd be right.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Consider our ancestors. Would it be a good idea to always rush from point A to point B, risking near constant exhaustion? Predators would find us an easy kill at that point.

    I'd argue that this conservative behavior is evolutionarily driven.

    • by GreyLurk (35139)
      Which is a good part of the reason that dieting and exercise are so hard to get into for a lot of people. We have deeply ingrained evolutionary drives to eat whatever food is available to us, and conserve our calories as much as possible, because as animals, we never knew when our next meal would be available, so you darn well better eat as much of that deer carcass as you can before it goes bad, or some bigger predator tries to take it from you.
      • Also: dieting and exercise are often misapplied. Exercise is for making you stronger or increasing your endurance. Diet is for changing your body fat. Using one when you should use the other is not going to work, long-term. Try getting rid of sugars and starches and see how much weight you lose. I've dropped 75 lbs / 35 kg since last March, and the only change I have made is that I now eat less than ten grams of carbohydrate a day as a goal, with less than twenty grams as the absolute limit. I have not enga
        • by Smauler (915644)

          Try getting rid of sugars and starches and see how much weight you lose.

          Alternatively, try getting rid of sugars and starches and see what you're allowed to eat... then compare it to a decent low calorie diet.

          I can totally eat like this for the rest of my life.

          No one is claiming you can't.

          • then compare it to a decent low calorie diet.

            I have. See:

            The last time I was this thin, I was eating 800-1000 calories a day and was constantly hungry.

            The line about "I can totally eat like this forever" is a comparison between eating like this and eating like I did the last time I lost a lot of weight. One is sustainable, because it doesn't make me hungry. One isn't, because it does. Just trying to help more people escape their weight.

        • You're partially right about excercise and diet, but combining the two can be very effective. If you excercise in the aerobic range (about 50-65% of max heart rate) then your body is going to burn your fat resources for energy. Also, if you increase your muscle mass, it becomes easier to metabolise excess calories.

          Carbohydrates aren't necessarily bad; it's the amount of them that causes the problem. If you keep carbs limited to fruit and vegetables, then you're extremely unlikely to put on weight. Your di
          • It's roughly equivalent to Atkins induction, actually. Just out of curiosity, why would you think it would punish the liver? Synthesizing ketones or synthesizing glycogen or fatty acids, either way it's going to be synthesizing one form of metabolically available energy or another.
            • I don't know any details, but I recall reading studies that long term low-carbohydrate diets (which I assume Atkins is one of) can cause liver/kidney disease. I'm not a biologist or nutritionist, so I haven't got a clue as to why that may be.
          • Sorry I didn't put this in the other comment, but it just occurred to me. There's a woman at work who is about 50 years old and at least 50 pounds overweight, but she's an avid bike rider, routinely doing 50+ miles a weekend in addition to her weekday workouts, year-round, in the South. She has plenty of muscle mass, which I know because I've watched her move heavy objects with ease. And her meals at work are pretty modest - she might go home and gulp a gallon of ice cream every night, but I don't think she
            • If she wants to lose weight, then eating less is definitely what she needs to do. However, it sounds like she's perfectly fit and healthy, so she might not need or want to lose weight. Sammo Hung is a good example of an agile fit martial artist who carries a few extra pounds.

              Ultimately, it boils down to calories in vs calories expended, but it's a lot easier to discuss than to put into action for a lot of people.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I've dropped 75 lbs / 35 kg since last March, and the only change I have made is that I now eat less than ten grams of carbohydrate a day as a goal, with less than twenty grams as the absolute limit.

          Congratulations, you have rediscovered the low-carbohydrate modified fast, also known as the Atkins diet. Make sure to eat foods with beneficial oils, especially nuts. Coconut and Macadamia are the primary examples. Avocados will also give you much-needed oils. It's a good diet for weight loss for people with proper liver function.

          In general what is wrong with our diets today is overconsumption of carbohydrates, which was pushed on us by the USDA and NIH on behalf of corporations hawking prepared foods. It

          • Oh, I didn't mean to claim I did any of the work to "rediscover" it - ultimately I was inspired by Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories - but I find that calling it Atkins leads to two problems: people who think about someone who is on maintenance and think that's how I plan to eat, and thus serve me stuff I don't want to eat, and people who are just batshit nuts Atkins haters.
            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              I find that calling it Atkins leads to two problems: people who think about someone who is on maintenance and think that's how I plan to eat, and thus serve me stuff I don't want to eat, and people who are just batshit nuts Atkins haters.

              Yeah, I've had a good time schooling those people. Usually the clincher is that Atkins didn't invent it, and the diet is used to treat chronic recurring seizures...

              • Hah! My wife is an epileptologist. A few months ago, she was at a conference and the topic of ketogenic diets came up. Several of the people were from pediatric institutions and reported that they had great results but that it was often hard to get compliance, especially if the rest of the family wouldn't go along. She piped up and mentioned what I was doing - and they told her that she was wrong, that nobody could keep up a ketosis for seven months (my duration at the time). Oh well; there are none so bli
                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  I lost 90lb in 9mo, and 120lb overall in about 13mo, and kept up ketosis for that period AFAIK.

    • by erice (13380)

      Consider our ancestors. Would it be a good idea to always rush from point A to point B, risking near constant exhaustion? Predators would find us an easy kill at that point.

      I'd argue that this conservative behavior is evolutionarily driven.

      Quite so. Though, I think you have the scenario backwards. Our ancestors were the predators. They relentlessly "ran" down their prey, moving efficiently while forcing the quarry to sprint erratically trying to get away until they collapsed from exhaustion.

      • If you think humans were successful endurance hunters, you've probably never tried to chase down so much as a dog.

        I'd say it was a miracle our ancestors survived long enough to invent the thrown spear, but that wouldn't be fair to Thag Grobnak. Real predators would have driven us to extinction long ago if not for his efforts.

        So if you're reading this, drink a toast to Thag Grobnak and his highly successful chain of Opposable-Thumb Massage Parlors.

        • If you think humans were successful endurance hunters, you've probably never tried to chase down so much as a dog.

          I've also never tried to hunt a woolly mammoth with a sharpened stick but that does not mean that it did not happen. The same is true of persistence hunting [wikipedia.org].

        • You've chosen the only other example of a cursorial hunter. Over the course of a few days, no other land animals can outpace fit humans and dogs.
          • by Smauler (915644)

            I seriously doubt that. Got any citations?

            • by Smauler (915644)

              Seriously off topic question... How did people kill mammoths with their tools? If they killed mammoths, why not elephants?

              • How did people kill mammoths with their tools?

                They chased them over cliffs.

                If they killed mammoths, why not elephants?

                Mammoth tastes better than elephant.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          You need to do some research, hell even google can solve this in one short search.

          Our hairless bodies coupled with some nice quirks of our hips make us the undisputed long distance runners.

          That dog you're chasing can't run a marathon, it'll over heat. It might out run you for what you think is a long distance, but people can run all day long without so much as a break, no other animal can, none even come close.

        • by Kelbear (870538)

          Generally speaking, I don't think humans succeeded by virtue of their endurance.

          That said, in some regions humans run down quadrupedal game with their endurance:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting [wikipedia.org]

          "During the persistence hunt an antelope, such as a kudu, is not shot or speared from a distance, but simply run down in the midday heat. Depending on the specific conditions, hunters of the central Kalahari will chase a kudu for about two to five hours over 25 to 35 km (16 to 22 mi) in temperatures of

    • Completely not the point of the article ...

      It's not about slection of speed to get somewhere, but instead about how people optimise for whatever average speed they select

  • If you get in shape, you become more prone to bouncing around and spending more energy. The better you are in shape, the more you'd prefer to run than walk. Problem is, if you're booking it everywhere you go, you turn everyone's heads and they glare at you. I think it has something to do with the social idea,"If that guy is running, maybe he just did something wrong, aka a thief." Or maybe it is just jealousy. Seriously, go around running everywhere you go, and you'll get lots of upset people looking a
    • by jxander (2605655)

      If anything, your perceived social stigma from running comes not from potential thievery, or other wrongdoing, but lowered ability to maneuver and avoid collisions. If you're running down the grocery store aisles, you are much more likely to clip a display, knock over the sodas, or crash into an old lady as you turn a corner. Moving slowly, i.e. walking, gives you time to react and avoid those dangerous situations, and lowers the impact should you still manage to bump into someone. Plus, the wheels on shop

      • Spot on ...

        Same social stigma as driving 100mph everywhere ... you may have the energy, ability and preference to do it - but safety (not jealousy) suggests moderation in many situations is the social norm

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      go running around stores, or running down campus, or running on sidewalks, and the glares will make you wonder if it is socially acceptable to run everywhere you go.

      Shit, you can't even walk quickly in a store or people look at you like you're a mugger or a thief. I know what I want and where it is most of the times I go shopping, and don't see the need to dawdle as if the store were the most interesting place I'll go all day. I suppose for most people, it is.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Maybe you look like a child molester.

        Or more likely, you have some social anxiety issues and only believe they are looking at you with derision.

        Or you just live in a really shitty area?

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Maybe you look like a child molester.

          I don't even wear a collar.

          Or more likely, you have some social anxiety issues and only believe they are looking at you with derision.

          I may or may not have social anxiety issues, but often they actually look at me with fear. I am sufficiently empathetic to be able to tell. I'm not a people person, but I'm not Rain Man.

          Or you just live in a really shitty area?

          Well, I do live in Lake county, California. Arguably that's a yes, but it's a matter of perspective.

  • I'd like to obtain a government grant to help me develop it.

  • My "time to move fast" prothesis accomodates 7 humans comfortably and has a 150 hp engine and goes 180 kph

  • by theIsovist (1348209) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:57PM (#42745859)

    ... Scientists discovered jogging?

  • I'm driving or flying there. Fuck using my feet.
  • Anecdote (Score:4, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:15PM (#42746033)

    I used to work in an office with an extremely athletic lady. She used to run (actually more of a jog) down the aisles between cubicles. Not bad looking either.

    One day, my boss was standing in the doorway, talking with me when she ran by. He gave her sort of an odd look. When he turned back to speak with me, I said, "If I were her, I'd run by this cubicle as well."

    He was laughing so hard, it was pretty much the end of our conversation.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:27PM (#42746133) Homepage
    After WWII ended, German POWs in the gulags of the Soviet Union adopted a particular method of movement known as the "plenny-step". This was designed by the prisoners to conserve energy when the Communists provided a starvation diet. Not much is known of the exact method used, other than it "turned the camp inhabitants into a mass of bent, crawling figures" [blogspot.com]. You have to realize that the human body (and all animals) do a really good job with optimizing energy output for work achieved.
  • At least in Skyrim. But I play that a lot, so I think it counts.
  • ... like Forrest Gump? There are short term problems like perspiration to deal with unless you and those around you don't mind you smelling gamey.

    Then there are long term issues like joint wear. I used to enjoy running but my knees wore out and knee replacement really doesn't fix that.

  • Not Lazy but Efficient and Adaptable. Most lifeforms adapted to a specific environment we as humans adapted to change.
  • I prefer the 'Policeman' walk - gait or whatever. It's a one leg leap forward with a pointed foot. Gracefull but silly.

  • Given the obesity problem, skipping to the grocery store or doing a goose step to the bus stop is probably a good idea as no doubt it expends more energy and uses more muscles than just slowly plodding along.

    Doesn't seem like a good idea though. I'm all for doing your own thing and not worrying TOO much about what society considers "normal" (like I'm sure goes for most of Slashdot's readership) but I think you'd pretty soon be known as "that idiot who goose steps to the bus stop"

  • No, we are built to cover as much ground as possible while expending as little energy as possibly. That's not lazy, that's a good survival strategy.

  • People don't run because..

    -It makes them sweat
    -They may tire out faster if they run making it longer to reach the said destination
    -They might be carrying something that makes it hard to rime
    -Time is not of the essence
    -Bad knees
    -Out of shape or obese
    -"makes me look stupid"

  • We are so used to humans being not very strong physically, we forget that we are actually the best, bar none at some things.

    What humans are crazy good at is best speed over time. Many animals are faster than us in the short run, but few or none can outdistance us over time. We are the tortoise to most animals hare.

    So if you can track an animal and are determined to walk it down, it really can't keep away from a human. So once you are smart enough to track something out of site, the animals odds of gettin

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