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Why We Don’t Fall When We Run

To the naked eye, running can seem pretty simple. It’s just one foot in front of the other, as they say. But if you’ve ever gone for a run, you know it’s far more complicated than that.

We’ve long known that running engages your core, legs, and even your arms. And come to think of it—it’s kind of amazing that we don’t fall on our faces when we run, considering we’re propelling all of our weight forward when we run. So what’s the deal—why don’t we fall?

A new study from Ohio State University found our bodies make microscopic adjustments to keep us from falling, meaning our bodies are the ultimate course correctors.

“You might think running is just a repetition of identical steps,” said Nidhi Seethapathi, lead author of the study. “But actually there are really small errors that happen when you run, and you have to constantly correct to avoid falling down.”

Our bodies subconsciously and instinctively correct our motion to keep us upright: “Our muscles and our senses are not perfect, and that leads to errors. If we didn’t correct for these self-generated errors, we would fall,” said Seethapathi.

The study involved having each participant run on a treadmill at three different speeds while researchers monitored and measured the motion in their torso, the placement of their footsteps, and the force with which their legs pushed against the ground. And yes, the study controlled for external factors in the study, like bumps on the travel or cracks in pavement.

Researchers found that the runners automatically corrected their bodies’ deviations and errors by adjusting where each footstep landed and how much force their leg hit the ground with. Even more impressive, these runners corrected imperfections in a step by the very next step—showing that our bodies can “fix” our running gaits in order to remain upright.

All of this is to say that our bodies are incredible machines. Not even robots can keep themselves upright like we do. So next time you go for a jog, send a small thank you to your body. It keeps you from falling without you (consciously) moving a muscle.

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