If you’re looking for motivation to go for a run after work, here it is.
Running keeps your bone marrow young. And that’s a good thing.
Researchers from Deakin University in Australia studied 101 men and women aged 25 to 35 years. They found those who ran more than 12.5 miles a week had bone marrow equivalent to eight years younger than those who were sedentary and didn’t regularly exercise.
They also found that for every 5.5 miles a person ran per week, the bone marrow was one year younger.
“The findings suggest that the average person could gain 'younger' bone marrow by small amounts of running," Daniel Belavy, PhD, an associate professor from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, said.
Bone marrow is a semisolid tissue in the soft part of the bone that produces blood cells.
“Humans are born with predominantly red-blood-cell-producing bone marrow. However, with age, this converts into a yellow fatty marrow. This can negatively impact blood and bone metabolism in areas such as the pelvis, vertebrae, thighs, and hips, and contribute to other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and osteoporosis,” Belavy said.
More than burning calories
The research suggests there is an association between certain types of exercise and yellow fatty marrow, also called marrow adipose tissue (MAT).
But it’s not as simple as just burning calories. Cyclists who rode more than 93 miles per week in the study didn’t show any significant beneficial impact on MAT.
“This underscores that marrow adipose tissue (MAT) is governed by different rules to the fat stores under the skin. It is not just about burning calories. This is, in our opinion, because you also need the mechanical loading of the spine to impact on marrow adipose tissue. The mechanical loading of the spine from running is important,” Belavy told Healthline.
So just how much running do you need to do to keep your bone marrow young?
Belavy says it’s an area that needs to be looked at more closely. But it may be less than you would think.
As well as long-distance runners, his team studied those who jogged for 12 to 25 miles per week. Although they didn’t run as much, they also showed a “younger” MAT, although not as much as those who ran a longer distance.
Belavy notes that running isn’t for everyone.
Cycling was shown not to have an impact on MAT, and Belavy suspects the same could be said for swimming.
But he says the benefits on bone marrow can likely also be achieved through other sports.
“Any load-bearing sport will likely have an impact. So this includes sports like soccer, tennis, and basketball. Our data also strongly indicated that ‘high-impact’ activities, like sprinting and jumping, positively impact MAT. So this implies that sports like volleyball will be associated with lower MAT. This remains to be shown though,” he said.
How best to run
Dr. Nirav Pandya is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
He says running greatly benefits the body.
“Running is extremely beneficial for overall health. It not only decreases the risk of chronic disease, but also improves bone density, mental acuity, and happiness,” he told Healthline.
But he says you’re better off running for short amounts regularly than occasionally running a far distance.
“Patients who run exclusively without attention to their mechanics, core strength, and general health are more susceptible to injury. It’s better to run less but more consistently rather than running a lot sporadically,” he said.
According to the CDC, between the period 2011 to 2014, there were 475,000 injuries related to running or jogging annually.
Pandya suggests the best way to avoid injury is to first consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program, then to slowly ease into running.
“Patients can see the entrance into running as a sport, as a several-month process. There are many running coaches and programs on the internet or in book form that start athletes on a graduated program of walking, then walking/running, and then running. Less is more initially,” he said.
As for the benefits on bone marrow, Belavy says it’s probably worth going for that run after work.
“The benefits of running far outweigh the potential risks. If people gradually increase their jogging or running load, and also are accompanied by a qualified trainer when getting into it, the risk of injuries is reduced,” he said.