For American pronghorn, play begins early in life. A young pronghorn will reach its peak play at about 4 weeks of age. Playtime includes a heavy dose of running. For pronghorns, running actually means sprinting. Running and playing as a fawn, however, come with risks. For fawns play represents around 20% of total energy expenditure (Byers 1997). This type of energy expenditure can leave them vulnerable to predation. If there is so much risk involved, why do they continue to sprint, leap, and twist during playtime? Why do they risk so much and leave themselves exposed? Fawns sprint because play is practice for their adult lives. Playful pronghorn fawns will one day grow into the fastest land mammals in North America, topping speeds of 55 mph or more. They can easily out run their predators. Pronghorn are made to run. They cannot afford to stand still. Moving is not only a good thing, it’s a matter of life and death.
Humans, do not have to worry about being chased by large predators, but some biologists have made the case that we, too, are made to run. Bernd Heinrich argues this very point in his book, Why We Run. Heinrich takes a natural history approach by comparing running and moving in multiple species across the biological spectrum. His central point is that we were once forced to be continually active to find food and survive, and because of this humans never had the chance to be idle. Unfortunately, we are now often idle for long periods of time. We don’t explore the wilderness. We don’t go for walks. We don’t run. We are content just to sit inside and watch the television or play video games or stare at a social media feed.
We know that periods of idleness can result in obesity, but Heinrich makes the case that a prolonged sedentary lifestyle has negative consequences on our bones. If bones don’t receive the normal daily stress that comes from moving and running, they will become weak (osteoporosis). Think about astronauts who live in the zero-gravity environment of space for a period of time. Their bones become weak rapidly. Like pronghorn, we weren’t made to be sedentary. We were made to run.
Can you name the #1 outdoor game for kids between the ages of 3-10? While I cannot support it with research, I believe it is “Tag”. Why do children (and lots of adults) love this game? We love it because it’s easy, there is no equipment to purchase, you can play with as little as 2 people, it can be played just about any where and it’s fun. There are also definite benefits. It’s a great way to meet new friends, it improves critical thinking skills (strategy involved), it improves speed and agility, and it’s great exercise.
Yet, children are often told not to run in the house (they might knock something over), not to run in the school hallway (it’s disorderly), not to run on the sidewalk (they might skin their knees). In some cases, kids may even be told not to run in the woods for fear of tripping or stepping in a hole.
Don’t forget, kids were made to run. And so were adults.