Exercise reduces bone fat: A key to better bone health

For the first time now, researchers have found that exercise can burn the fat found within bone marrow and that it can lead to a healthier set of bones!!


This path breaking inference has arisen from CT scan analysis of mouse femurs conducted by University of North Carolina School of Medicine and offers evidence that good exercise improves bone quality and the amount of bone in a matter of weeks.

“One of the main clinical implications of this research is that exercise is not just good, but amazing for bone health,” said lead author Maya Styner, MD, a physician and assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the UNC.

This new evidence shows it’s possible to use exercise to reverse some of the effects of osteoporosis and fractures on bones.

Knowing Marrow

Bone and marrow are much more dynamic than common awareness among public.

Marrow, in reality, is a particular hub of activity, coordinating the formation of bone and cartilage and is responsible simultaneously for churning out blood cells, immune cells, and cancerous cells.

Marrow produces fat, though the physiological role of bone marrow fat in our body i.e. whether it is beneficial or harmful for one’s health has remained mysterious till now.

Previously it was thought that the special fat reserve in marrow is not used to fuel energy during exercise in the same way other fat stores are used throughout the body during exercise.

But this present study has given opposite evidence.

According to Dr Styner, all of the inferences from the study point to the conclusion that marrow fat can be burned off through exercise and that this process is good for bones.

“Obesity appears to increase a fat depot in the bone, and this depot behaves very much like abdominal and other fat depots,” said Styner. “Exercise is able to reduce the size of this fat depot and burn it for fuel and at the same time build stronger, larger bones.”

It is commonly suggested from previous studies that a higher amount of marrow fat increases the risk of fractures and other problems.

The vanishing fat depots

The researchers performed their experiments in two groups of mice. One group was fed a normal diet (lean mice) and the other received a high-fat diet (obese mice) starting a month after birth.

When they were four months old, half the mice in each group were given a running wheel to use whenever they liked for the next six weeks. Because mice like to run, the group with access to a wheel tended to spend a lot of time exercising.

The researchers analyzed the animals’ body composition, marrow fat and bone quantity at various points.

The most surprising result was the dramatic difference in the number of fat cells present in the marrow, which dropped by more than half in obese mice that exercised compared to obese mice that were sedentary.

The tests also revealed that exercise improved the thickness of bone, and that this effect was particularly pronounced in obese/fat mice.

Although research in mice is not directly translatable to the human condition, the kinds of stem cells that produce bone and fat in mice are the same kind that produce bone and fat in humans.

“I see a lot of patients with poor bone health, and I always talk to them about what a dramatic effect exercise can have on bones, regardless of what the cause of their bone condition is,” said Styner. “With obesity, it seems that you get even more bone formation from exercise. Our studies of bone biomechanics show that the quality and the strength of the bone is significantly increased with exercise and even more so in the obese exercisers”


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