We all know that exercise burns fat, but did you know that it also melts away the fat stored inside your bones? Scientists from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine recently published a study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research that shows, for the very first time, how exercising can burn fat found within your bone marrow, a process that dramatically improves bone health in just weeks!
Exercise is “Amazing” for Bone Health
“One of the main clinical implications of this research is that exercise is not just good, but amazing, for bone health,” says lead author Maya Styner, MD. “In just a very short period of time, we saw that running was building bone significantly in mice.” In both mice and humans, the same type of stem cells produce bone and fat, so although research in mice cannot be used to make precise predictions about humans, the UNC findings have established an exciting new line of investigation.
“I see a lot of patients with poor bone health,” says Styner. “Our study of bone biomechanics show that the quality and the strength of the bone is significantly increased with exercise.”
Why Bone Marrow Fat Matters
Historically, the function of bone marrow fat in the human body has been seen as something of a puzzle. “There’s been intense interest in marrow fat because it’s highly associated with states of low bone density,” explains Styner. Given that exercise profoundly affects fat elsewhere in the body, Styner and her team decided to examine how exercise impacts bone marrow fat. Essentially, Styner says, “we wanted to use exercise as a tool to understand the fat in the marrow.”
She and her fellow researchers gave half of the group of mice unlimited access to a running wheel, while restricting the other half to a running wheel-less, sedentary lifestyle. After just six weeks, the researchers found a substantial reduction in the overall size of fat cells as well as the overall amount of fat in the marrow of the “exercising” mice. They also found that the mice who got to run on the wheel had measurably thicker, stronger bones!
Stay tuned for more research
One reason why our knowledge of bone marrow fat is still so scant is simply because it’s tricky to study something that is encased in bone! Previous investigations of bone marrow fat relied on the use of a toxic tracer to measure changes, but Styner and her team used a sophisticated MRI machine called a 9.4 TMRI to assess marrow fat. Eliminating the need for a toxic tracer opens the door for human studies in the future. “If we want to take this technique to the human level … our work shows this is possible,” says Styner.
The more researchers uncover about bone marrow fat, the clearer it becomes that this substance profoundly influences our overall wellbeing. If you’re invested in enriching the health of not only your bones, but also your entire body, you’ll definitely want to stay tuned as Styner and other scientists continue to investigate bone marrow fat.