The ‘active grandparent hypothesis’: New research explores how we’ve evolved to move more and live longer

Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman takes the long view of physical activity. His name has been connected to running and human evolution ever since his seminal Nature study “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo” appeared in 2004, and he’s been linked to barefoot running in particular after a 2010 study, also in Nature, explored the impact of modern padded running shoes on our strides.

Lieberman’s research interests range wider than running, spanning physical activity across the evolutionary history of what moves humans, in the industrialized world and in traditional hunter-gatherer societies. In a new review published Monday in PNAS, Lieberman and his Harvard co-authors grapple with the “active grandparent hypothesis,” using biomedical research and evolutionary studies to explain how humans evolved to need physical activity, particularly in and after middle age, to increase life span and reduce the risk of disease.

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