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Researchers have discovered that running burns fat in bone marrow, with benefits for bone health.

It’s a secret anyone interested in bone health should know. For the first time, Unniversity of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers show that exercising burns the fat found within bone marrow and offers evidence that this process improves bone quality and the amount of bone in a matter of weeks.

The study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, also suggests obese individuals – who often have worse bone quality – may derive even greater bone health benefits from exercising than their lean counterparts. “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 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “In just a very short period of time, we saw that running was building bone significantly in 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. In addition to its implications for obesity and bone health, Styner said the research also could help illuminate some of the factors behind bone degradation associated with conditions like diabetes, arthritis, anorexia, and the use of steroid medications.