Your bones play a vital role in your overall health. Most of us take our bones for granted. After all, they’re tough and strong, capable of withstanding a surprising amount of damage. Unless you have suffered a broken or fractured bone, you may rarely think about your bone health at all.
But as you grow older, your bones begin to grow weak thanks to your body’s inefficiency at processing nutrients. You cannot utilize calcium and other minerals as effectively, leading to degeneration and weakening of your bones. By the time you are in your 50s and 60s, it’s often too late to reverse the effects of age. Which is why it’s so important to start while you are young!
According to a 2016 study, endurance running (long distance running and jogging) can help to slow the decline in mineral density that is the result of age. Simply put: running can keep your bones healthy for longer!
A team of researchers in Spain compared the bone density of over 200 long-distance runners–all of whom engaged in marathons, half-marathons, and 10-K runs regularly. The researchers compared the bone density of the calcaneus (heel bone), and found that the long-distance runners scored higher on the bone stiffness or rigidity index than their non-running counterparts. The more sedentary individuals had a much lower bone density than those who ran regularly.
You may be thinking, “But this is just one bone in the body! Surely the effects of running won’t translate across the board.” Not so! Runners tend to have higher bone mineral density due to the pounding that they take in their high-impact exercise. Your body is designed to protect itself from damage, so an increase in high-impact activity (like running) will trigger your body’s internal adaptive mechanisms. Just like your muscles will grow stronger, so too your bones will increase their density to bear up under the repeated pounding of the running.
Both high impact and high-weight exercise are excellent for developing healthier bones. Both of these activities place a strain on your bones (along with your muscles), forcing your body to adapt to the increased strain. This is why Olympic bodybuilders can lift weights you could only dream of: their bodies have adapted to the very heavy loads by strengthening their joints, muscles, and bones.
If you want to stave off the effects of old age, running is definitely one of the best ways to do so! You’ll find that running during your 20s, 30s, and 40s will help to enhance your bone mineral density, strengthening your bones and giving them more resistance to damage. By the time your body begins to lose bone density, you will be an experienced runner with a body that is accustomed to sending more minerals to your bones. Your bone density loss will be much slower as a result.
Of course, running isn’t the ONLY way to go! As mentioned above, heavy weight lifting can also be a good way to increase your bone density. It’s not just great for your muscles, but it can improve joint strength and bone density. You don’t have to start lifting very heavy now, but take it easy and get your body accustomed to the heavier loads. Once your body adapts to the extra weight, you’ll find that you are much stronger and more resilient as a result. You can continue resistance training well into your advanced years, and it will help to stave off the effects of age. Definitely the smart way to go if you want to stay young for longer!