Even as babies, our first step towards experiencing life is learning how to walk. Walking is such a simple movement that seldom does anyone think twice or gives it much thought before doing the action.
Millions of years ago, our ancestors used to walk on all fours. From foraging to climbing trees, using both hands and legs. So what made them evolve from using four limbs to only two?
Have you ever wondered how humans evolved in a different way compared to our closest relatives, the chimpanzees? Thanks to evolution, walking on two legs is a characteristic distinct to us. But why? And how?
This article takes a deep dive and attempts to answer questions like “who invented walking?” and delves into the hows and the whys of walking. The last section also takes up modern walking with its effects on our health and lifestyle habits.
Origin of Walking
Like dominoes, the first steps taken by our ancestors set about a series of actions and chain reactions that have led us here. Before understanding the origin of walking, take a look at the origins of the word walking.
When was walking first invented? In c.1400. Scientifically, the act of walking on two feet is called bipedalism. Studies show that this evolution sets us apart from other primates.
Our human history is nothing short of fascinating, and most of our knowledge of our early days comes from studying fossils. Naturally, most of the information about the early ages wasn’t recorded properly, leaving us to look at the bone structure as a way to pinpoint when this change occurred.
Uncovering Our Past
In 1978, In Laetoli, a group of scientists found some track marks which, according to them, dated back approx 3.6 million years ago. They were said to be of a human species called Australopithecus afarensis.
This discovery was nothing short of revolutionary for anthropologists. It contradicted the traditional theory of human evolution — that our brain developed first and everything came second, including walking upright. Now, we know it was because of this locomotion that we got big brains. Cool, huh?
But this wasn’t the first species to walk upright. So which one of our ancestors in the hominin group first invented walking?
Well, let’s first understand how our body adapted to be able to arrive where it is today. And to do so, we must identify our bodies’ evolutionary hallmarks.
- The skull is attached to the spine from the base and not at the back.
- A curved pelvic bone with curved hip bones forming a bowl-like shape.
- The thigh bone angle brings the knees closer together.
- The feet have arches and a big toe, a hallux.
All of these evolutionary hallmarks are because of bipedalism. Our body adapted so much that walking is evolutionarily easier for us.
Looking at the evidence that scientists found by examining the fossils, we can arrive at a somewhat chronological sequence of bipedalism in the early days.
1. Sahelanthropus tchadensis
This is the oldest fossil ever to be excavated, dating to around 7 million years ago. And folks, this might be our winner. The skull fossil found by scientists points to them having the spine connected to the skull at its base. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether this is a good indicator of bipedalism. The jury is still out on that one.
2. Orrorin tugenensis
Discovered to be living in Kenya around 6 million years back, we found 13 fossils wherein 2 of them were partial femora. They didn’t walk quite the way we do but probably had a slightly different gait.
3. Ardipithecus kadabba
They were said to exist somewhere between 5.8 and 5.2 million years ago in Ethiopia. The evidence comes from one bone in its big toe, where the shape of the joint indicates its biped locomotion. Just one.
4. Ardipithecus ramidus
They lived in ancient Ethiopia around 4.4 million years back. Back in 2009, a fragmented skeleton of “Ardi” was found, which suggested that her foot probably propelled her forward because of its rigid lever type of formation. Her pelvic bones also pointed to a round bowl-like shape similar to Australopithecus anamensis. It is believed that she was both a climber and biped.
5. Australopithecus anamensis
Scientists dated them back about 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago to eastern Africa. It was biped mainly because of 2 bones. One was a thigh bone called the partial femora, and the other was the shin bone, the tibia. These both are signs that this species was definitely biped.
So, who invented walking for humans? While the debate is still ongoing, many assume Australopithecus anamensis to be the safest bet. At the same time, some say that the first biped was Orrorin or Sahelanthropus.
Major Leap in Human Motion
Currently, we are the only species from the hominin group to exist today. From standing upright to developing a bigger brain and cultivating complex languages and cultures, we have come a long way from our ancestors, Homo habilis and Neanderthal.
How and why did we come to be the dominant species? Let us dive into our rich history to understand why our ancestors started walking on two feet. While there is no concrete proof, many scientists have come up with different theories that shed light on the possible reasons for this change.
We will look at 4 possible reasons that could have contributed to the evolution of bipedalism.
Theories of Bipedalism
1. Provisioning Model
This theory was proposed by Owen Lovejoy, an evolutionary anthropologist who postulates that the rise of bipedalism resulted from monogamy and food provisioning. The ancient tradition of mating with the strongest male was fazed out by females looking to males who could provide for them. This change led the males to figure out that they could carry more food if they walked on two feet. The fossils discovered support this theory because the size of canines and loss of body hair point to signs of monogamy.
2. Energy Saving
At the end of the Miocene period, due to climatic changes, the food had dispersed, and to save on energy, bipedalism was likely needed to travel long distances in search of food. In a study it was found that there was an energetic advantage to bipedalism.
3. Postural Feeding Hypothesis
As more and more fossils were discovered, it was seen that the early biped species still climbed trees and the bone structure proved this. This theory states that early hominins were likely to be partial bipeds because they had to stand on branches and reach for the fruits on the trees that they would otherwise not be able to reach if they stood on all fours.
4. Thermo-Regulatory Model
Peter Wheeler, a notable professor of evolutionary biology, introduced this theory. While many think this theory is not the reason behind bipedalism, it is the main reason why hominins increasingly relied on bipedalism as the years went by. The theory states that bipedalism was needed to keep cool in the hot weather conditions of Africa. When your body is standing upright, the body surface exposed to the sun reduces.
Now, let’s take a look at some benefits that came about on us walking on two feet.
Benefits of Bipedal Locomotion
- Frees Hands
Going from quadrupedal to biped, one of the added advantages of walking upright was that it freed the hands. This gave greater mobility and freedom to the early hominins as it released the usage of hands in locomotion.
The individual could carry food and babies while commuting from one location to another. It also improved feeding habits and made eating more effective. Instead of relying on one limb to eat, now they could make use of both hands. This was particularly needed when there was competition for the same food, or a predator was nearby.
- Tool Making
Making a tool requires the use of not one but two limbs. Early hominins used to create tools from stones and bones. If they remained quadruped or even partial bipeds, then they wouldn’t have been able to carry tools for hunting.
They would have to rely on pure body mass. This would have curbed the evolutionary process. Want to know more about the stone ages and learn some fun facts? Here are the Top 10 Facts About The Stone Age.
- Social Displays
Many scientists believe that while languages and social interactions didn’t start for many million years after bipedalism, they attribute the cause for social displays to be because of the shift to bipedalism.
- Expansion of Brain
Even though according to fossil evidence, brain expansion took place roughly 2 million years back, it is because of bipedalism that this evolutionary change could take place.
It is hypothesized that the areas of the brain that sense control movement and sensations developed and reorganized once the hands could be freed.
- Survival Advantage
It is said that as the landscapes changed from dense forests to savannah grasslands, the survival advantage of being bipedal kicked in. Because of being bipeds, hominins had a better visionary advantage.
Standing upright ensured that they could look over the tall grass, which allowed them to steer clear of predators.
Present-day Walking Style
How Our Walking Style Evolved From Early Hominin
Extensive research has been conducted on how our gait was different from the early bipedal hominin. One such research talks about how the fossilized footprints discovered in Laetoli show that the style of walking involved a different limb posture.
It is concluded that it took many years and rounds of evolution for the walking style to be what it is today. The early hominin walked upright, but their walking style differed significantly from modern-day locomotion. It was partially because our skeleton structure took years to be modified the way it is today.
Fossils indicate that the early species still had modifications that indicated they weren’t totally terrestrial beings but had features such as longer arms, shorter legs, and curved fingers- all geared toward climbing.
Homo erectus was one of the early species that showed signs of a more modern walking style with the evolution of longer legs.
What Your Walking Style Says About You
This essential evolutionary process can tell a lot about your health. Medical experts and doctors have conducted studies that detail what your walking style says about the internal happenings in your body.
Have you ever wondered what health issues are evident in your walk? We discuss some important factors below; keep a lookout!
Types of Walking Styles
If you favor one leg while walking, it is a clear indication of a damaged joint structure or muscle ailment. These are mainly due to muscle strain, ligament, or other joint injuries.
Usually, it is a temporary condition, and with time, it gets better. However, sometimes it can point towards a more profound and severe condition like early signs of arthritis.
If your walking style is altered for a longer period and the pain becomes chronic, seek medical help. If your stride is faulty, it puts pressure on your knees, back, and other body parts.
2. Listless walk
If you walk with a sort of listlessness that makes your shoulder droop forward, it can be a sign of depression- either temporary or chronic. When a person feels down, their walk is slow and involves a lot of foot-dragging.
Taking care of your mental health ensures that your walking style is lighter with a faster stride, improving your emotional well-being and psychological brain health.
Often, people who are more physically active don’t encounter cramping of legs when walking. Cramping your leg muscles could be a sign of aging. But sometimes, if a young person experiences cramping, it’s recommended they go to a doctor. It could point to an undiagnosed disease like pulmonary or artery disease.
Apart from the health indicators, your walking style is directly correlated with self-esteem and confidence levels.
How is Your Confidence Level Linked to Your Walking Style?
Have you heard the saying, fake it till you make it? This is precisely what one should do if one lacks confidence but doesn’t want to be perceived as nervous and scared.
Walking with confidence is a piece of advice that most people adopt in their lives if they wish to exhibit signs of confidence.
Make these three necessary changes to your posture and walk to exude confidence; take long strides, don’t keep your head down, and pull your shoulders back.
In addition, don’t be rigid and keep a relaxed posture. This makes your walk look effortless.
Effects of Human Walking
Next, let’s take a detailed look at what were the implications of bipedalism for modern history and humans.
Out of Africa Movement
Homo ergaster is said to be the first of our ancestors who moved out to Africa and into southern Eurasia 1.75 million years ago. Scientists conclude that it was mainly due to climatic reasons that migration became important.
What made it possible for them to take on this migration? Well, there are distinctly three reasons why:
- They could cover long distances more easily as their bipedal gait grew more efficient.
- Tolerance for eating a variety of different meats increased their chances of finding food.
- A good survival instinct to deal with unfamiliar environments and more advanced hunting tools.
You might wonder how this great migration impacts civilizations.
You see, ours wasn’t the only species to exist back then. Before 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, other species in the hominin group, like Homo erectus and Neanderthals, roamed the earth too. But by the end of the migration, ours was the only species left standing.
And the result of it all? We have since won the battle of the fittest, colonized the world, and become the dominant species.
Why Walking Is Important in Modern Day
We were never meant to be sedentary beings. Our evolutionary bias is to walk; we are wired to always be on our feet.
But with the advent of the technological age and everything being at the tips of our fingers, we have slowly lost sight of our biological wiring. And our bodies punish us for this oversight.
Our desk-bound way of lifestyle manifests a plethora of diseases and ailments. And the simplest solution to a lot of lifestyle issues? Walking and a lot of walking.
1. Improves Life Expectancy
Studies have been conducted to determine whether walking can increase life expectancy. And the result? It absolutely can. Findings indicate that walking can significantly lower the chances of premature death and increase longevity. Just by walking more steps each day, one experiences fewer cardiovascular ailments and joint pain.
2. Strengthens Muscles and Joints
By simply walking every day, one can strengthen and tone leg muscles which helps reduce joint pain. Additionally, the movement helps bring oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage area.
3. Lowered Chances of Diseases and Disorders Later in Life
People who include a mild form of walking experience fewer chances of contracting diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. People in the age group of 40 to 60 years old stand to cut their chance of getting Alzheimer’s by 50% if they average 8-9000 steps a day.
4. Improves Mental Health
Taking a walk out in nature facilitates the part of the brain that regulates mood. The brain secretes endorphins, and this helps reduce feelings of discomfort by acting like a pain killer. It helps in combating stress.
Guide to Walking in the Modern Day
When you look at walking upright through the lens of evolution, it is an important step. But it comes with its own set of cons.
The pressure is felt by our spine, knees, and heart. A vertical spine means the risk of injuries and back pain is tenfold. The heart and the vessels have to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, and our entire weight is on the knees, which adds to the risk of knee and joint pain.
However, we can take some steps and alleviate the pressure on our bodies. By assimilating some of these techniques into our day-to-day life, we can improve our posture.
How to Walk Properly
- Keep a straight back and try elongating your back to avoid hunching and slouching while walking. It helps put less pressure on your back.
- Next, add a swinging motion to your arms. However, don’t swing too high or too fast. Keep a gentle speed.
- Avoid looking down at your phone. Keep your head level and look straight ahead.
- Relax your shoulders and engage your core to ensure less pressure is felt by your neck, back, and shoulder muscles.
Now that we have looked at how to walk correctly, let’s discuss a few ways how you can add walking to your busy routine and reap the benefits.
1. Walk for 10 Mins After a Meal
Walking after eating helps improve digestion and help combat the spike in your blood sugar levels, which can significantly reduce the chances of type 2 diabetes.
2. Walk Your Dog
Instead of hiring a dog walker, save money and improve your health by doing it yourself. Additionally, spending time with your pets can be an instant mood booster.
3. Bring a Friend Along
Walking with a loved one makes us lose track of time and makes the mundane activity of walking more enjoyable. You can also call up your friend while on your daily walk.
While the answer to the question of who invented walking for humans is complex and murky, the safest bet is to credit and thank our ancestors for this trait.
Now that we can appreciate the long and rich history of walking that took a million years to complete, let’s vow to add walking to our everyday routine!
1.When was walking invented as a sport?
Racewalking, also called pedestrianism, was invented in the mid-19th century in Britain. This competitive walking sport rose in popularity after noblemen played the odds on which footman would win. It later got popularised in America in the late 19th century.
2.Why did humans start walking?
Humans began walking for a myriad of reasons. Some scientists credit this to the climatic changes forcing humans to walk long distances for food. Others believe that carrying food was easier on two legs.
3.Who came up with the word ‘walking’?
Well, no one. The word walking comes from the Dutch word zwalken meaning to wander and the Latin word valgus meaning bow-legged.