One thing you may notice if you should look at the fossils of early man is that their skeletons were comprised of thick, heavy and powerful looking bones. While you may attribute this to their existing in a state closer to nature and being closer to our wild, unevolved state, the surprising truth is that our own bones today have the potential to be just as strong.
Researchers found that the human hunter-gatherers from 7,000 years ago had bones that were as strong as those found inside of an orangutan. Today, people have significantly lighter and weaker bones on average. Yet the change is not because of our genes, or our diets. Rather, it is because we tend to lead much less active lifestyles than our forebears. Specifically, a great reduction in the amount of activities that strengthen our bones. When it comes to the concept “use it or lose it”, most of us are in fact losing it.
The researchers reported that there is, in fact, no anatomical or genetic reason why a person alive today couldn’t achieve the same bone strength as that of an orangutan or early human foragers from which we all descend. But even the most physically active people alive are highly unlikely to be loading their bones with enough frequent and intense stress to allow for the increased bone strength seen in the peak point of traditional human hunter-gatherers. For millions of years, the lives of our primitive ancestors involved great amounts of action and physical activity. Only in the last 50 to 100 years have we become so sedentary. The human body was not built for sitting in cars or behind desks.
Strengthening activities make our bones stronger from the loading forces causing the bone mesh to grow back stronger and thicker, a process that our bodies can maintain all throughout life. Increased bone strength naturally counters the deterioration of bones through aging.
While very few of us today spend our lives roaming through the wilderness in search of food and game, we can still benefit from regular workouts. Were we to challenge our bones with enough loading, one could theoretically be just as strong as an orangutan. But the lack of activity predisposes us to have weaker bones, leading to situations where a bone might break when previously it would not have. HIp fractures are not a natural consequence of aging, necessarily, because if you built your bone strength up earlier in life it would never drop below the level to where fractures can easily occur.
Strength training should begin earlier in life, but is of benefit at any age. Strength training builds not only bone and muscle, but is linked with improvements in diabetes, lower back pain, obesity, and overall longevity. Studies have shown that seniors who take part in strength training live longer, with a 41 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease, and a 19 percent lower chance of death by cancer. Strengthening activities include weightlifting, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises where you lift your own body. It’s never too late to start exercise, but speak with your doctor first to learn how to do it safely and effectively.