Male long-distance runners are not only fitter than most they are likely to have the best genes
Just a day after marathon runners were shown to be smarter, it also seems that endurance athletes have higher ‘reproductive potential’ and are a good bet when choosing a mate.
Researchers say that good runners are likely to have had ancestors who were excellent hunters and would therefore have had the pick of the females, creating a biological advantage for their descendants and passing on the best genes.
The researchers studied 542 runners at the Robin Hood marathon in Nottingham, noting down their finish times and recording the length of their fingers.
Previous studies have shown that men whose ring finger is longer than their index finger were exposed to more testosterone in the womb which increases sperm count and sex drive, boosts heart health and conveys manly characteristics such as facial hair and a deeper voice.
They found that the 10 per cent of men with the most masculine digit ratios were, on average, 24 minutes and 33 seconds faster than the 10 per cent of men with the least masculine digit ratios, suggesting that those who were better runners also had increased fertility.
“The observation that endurance running ability is connected to reproductive potential in men suggests that women in our hunter-gatherer past were able to observe running as a signal for a good breeding partner,” said the study’s lead author Dr Danny Longman.
“It was thought that a better hunter would have got more meat, and had a healthier – and larger – family as a consequence of providing more meat for his family.
“But hunter-gatherers may have used egalitarian systems with equal meat distribution as we see in remaining tribes today. In which case more meat is not a factor, but the ability to get meat would signal underlying traits of athletic endurance, as well as intelligence – to track and outwit prey – and generosity – to contribute to tribal society. All traits you want passed on to your children,” he said.
The most successful prehistoric men were likely to have been persistence hunters who basically stalked their prey until it gave up from sheer exhaustion.
“Humans are hopeless sprinters but are fantastically efficient long-distance runners, comparable to wolves and wild coyotes,” added Dr Longman.
“You can still see examples of persistence hunting in parts of Africa and Mexico today. Hunters will deliberately choose the hottest time of day to hunt, and chase and track an antelope or gnu over 30 to 40 kilometres for four or five hours.
“The animal recovers less and less from its running until it collapses exhausted and is easy to kill.”
The correlation was also found in women, but was much more pronounced in men, suggesting a stronger evolutionary selection in men for running ability.
The 10 per cent of women with the most masculine digit ratios were, on average, 11 minutes and 59 seconds faster than the 10 per cent with the least masculine.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Division of Biological Anthropology and is published in the journal PLOS ONE.