It seems the popular association between testosterone, the hormone associated with masculinity, and competition, may be overstated. Scientists studying an isolated population in Bolivia found that men engaged in competitive sports got a measurably lower boost in testosterone than those who chopped down trees, a non-competitive activity.
Anthropologists Ben Trumble and Michael Gurven of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) studied the hormone levels of the men of the Tsimane in central Bolivia and published their findings in Evolution and Human Behavior. The Tsimane are a physically active group who need to work to forage, fish, farm, and hunt for their food, and thus burn through food energy in the process of collecting it — the sort of physically exerting activities that triggers the release of testosterone in men. Interestingly, the new study found that Tsimane men have 33 percent lower baseline testosterone levels than men living in the United States, but they also don’t experience a significant drop in testosterone levels as they age.
Testosterone boosts the ability of muscles to intake blood sugar, so temporary spikes in hormone levels help you with physical activity. Trumble and Gurven tested men who played soccer for an hour, and found a 30.1 percent increase in testosterone levels. However, when the men spent an hour chopping down trees, an activity that’s important to their way of life but not directly competitive or aggressive, they measured a 46.8% increase, significantly higher.
This suggests that testosterone isn’t as directly tied to engaging in competition as previously thought. In fact, it could mean that spikes in testosterone become associated with whatever physical activities are most vital to survival, and for now, at least, being able to cut firewood remains a more important life skill than kicking a ball real good. This, in turn, means that a whole generation of sports players who just wanted to express their inner testosterone could be about to announce, “I never wanted to do this in the first place. I always wanted to be… a lumberjack!”
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