July 3, 2012 | David F. Coppedge


As summer Olympics season approaches, we should remember that we humans are not the only ones with some amazing physical abilities.

Giraffe-alympics:  Humans may dive from 10 meters or more, but the distance between heart and head does not change significantly.  Giraffes, by contrast, can lower their heads 18 feet to drink water without their brains exploding.  Then they can take off galloping if a predator approaches, all the while maintaining constant fluid pressure.  PhysOrg wrote in a short article, “Giraffes are living proof that cells’ pressure matters.”  It’s about researchers in France who came up with a better model to explain fluid pressure in tissues when cells divide.  The new model explains how a tissue maintains a steady state between cell division and cell death.  “If that were the case, very tall organisms such as giraffes could not exist, because the cells in their lower body would die under pressure.”

Lizard diving competition:  Like cats, lizards land on their feet after a fall; but unlike cats, they do it with a twist of the tail.  “Lizards in their natural environment encounter various situations where they could fall, PhysOrg explained.  “For instance, they could fall while fighting over territory, seeking food, or even mating. To avoid injuries, they must have a way to turn themselves during a fall to land safely on their feet. ” PhysOrg reported how researchers from UC Berkeley took high-speed video of green anoles and flat-tailed house geckos to see how they do it.  They were impressed enough to design a RightingBot robot that imitates the tail-flick trick.  They believe their findings “could also help engineers to design air- or land-based robots with better stability.”

Amazing FactsAgeless diving seabirds:  One might think that animals with the most strenuous lives would age sooner, but guillemots (a species of diving bird) maintain fitness until their last dive, without showing signs of aging.  “The guillemots — which look similar to penguins but can fly — have the highest flight costs of any bird and expend substantial energy for diving,” Science Daily explained.  “Their high metabolisms and frequent dives should produce oxidative stress, causing the birds to deteriorate as they age. But, the researchers discovered that the birds stay fit and active as they grow older, maintaining their flying, diving, and foraging abilities.”  Kyle Elliott (U of Manitoba) remarked, “Not only do these birds live very long, but they maintain their energetic lifestyle in a very extreme environment into old age.”  Maybe they could help humans in the Aging Competition in which everyone is participating.

Now, back to our regular stadium coverage.  Dr. Michael Wilkinson still thinks Olympic runners would train better by kicking off their training shoes.  He’s been running barefoot for six years, studying the performance and health benefits of running unshod.  It’s not just more natural; Science Daily quoted him explaining, “There’s a difference between shod and barefoot running gaits that comes about from feeling the ground. The sensory feedback when running barefoot encourages runners to put their feet down more gently in an attempt to avoid the impact forces that would cause discomfort and are also linked to injury.”  Need more reasons?

In new research, Dr Michael Wilkinson found that when runners who always wear shoes run barefoot they immediately alter their gait to that characteristic of habitual barefoot runners, and also use less oxygen during barefoot running compared to running with shoes at the same speed. This indicates greater running economy which is an important determinant of distance running performance, especially in elite runners.

Habitual barefoot runners have a distinctive running gait — using mid-foot landings, shorter stride lengths, faster stride rates, and less time in contact with the ground. They are also known to hit the ground with lower impact force and loading rates than runners who land on the rear foot in trainers. This cushions the force of landing, avoiding the discomfort associated with striking the ground heel-first common in runners who wear shoes.

According to Wilkinson, barefoot running is a hot topic among physiologists and foot racers, but he warns against misinformation on some internet sites.  With proper supervision, athletes new to barefoot running can quickly adapt and enjoy the benefits of those who habitually run barefoot, some of whom see a 3% to 6% performance boost.  See the 1/27/2010 entry, “Barefoot is better.”

Look at us.  We applaud our champions at the Olympics and carry on as if we inhabit this planet alone.  We think we are so smart and fit, because we don’t spend enough time learning from our animal trainers – not humans who train animals, but animals who can train us, if we paid closer attention.  For me, I’d like to learn how the guillemots do it.

Exercise:  Take up barefoot walking around the house.  If you enjoy running or jogging, try barefoot running under guidance from a reputable trainer.  First, learn about hazards in your environment (e.g., parasites).  And don’t overload your “sensory feedback” mechanism by trying it on hot concrete or in the desert.


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  • rockyway says:

    If you search YouTube for ‘Otter pups swimming lesson’ you can see an otter preparing her pup for a future olympics :=}
    – hat tip Uncommon descent

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