Linking brains and brawn

Exercise and the evolution of human neurobiology

David A Raichlen, John D. Polk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The hunting and gathering lifestyle adopted by human ancestors around 2 Ma required a large increase in aerobic activity. High levels of physical activity altered the shape of the human body, enabling access to new food resources (e.g. animal protein) in a changing environment. Recent experimental work provides strong evidence that both acute bouts of exercise and long-term exercise training increase the size of brain components and improve cognitive performance in humans and other taxa. However, to date, researchers have not explored the possibility that the increases in aerobic capacity and physical activity that occurred during human evolution directly influenced the human brain. Here, we hypothesize that proximate mechanisms linking physical activity and neurobiology in living species may help to explain changes in brain size and cognitive function during human evolution. We review evidence that selection acting on endurance increased baseline neurotrophin and growth factor signalling (compounds responsible for both brain growth and for metabolic regulation during exercise) in some mammals, which in turn led to increased overall brain growth and development. This hypothesis suggests that a significant portion of human neurobiology evolved due to selection acting on features unrelated to cognitive performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume280
Issue number1750
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013

Fingerprint

neurophysiology
Neurobiology
brain
Brain
exercise
physical activity
human evolution
cognition
Mammals
Exercise
Nerve Growth Factors
lifestyle
growth and development
ancestry
hunting
neurotrophins
Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
Growth and Development
Human Body
Animals

Keywords

  • Brain size
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • Encephalization
  • Endurance running
  • Neurotrophins
  • Physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

Linking brains and brawn : Exercise and the evolution of human neurobiology. / Raichlen, David A; Polk, John D.

In: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 280, No. 1750, 2013.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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