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Human Ancestors: Heavier Bones, Healthier Mobility

Bone, Joint, and Muscle Health Bone, Joint, and Muscle Health

A 2015 study, led by Christopher Ruff, PhD, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has shown that our ancestors that hunted and gathered, had much sturdier skeletons, therefore, the ability to withstand skeletal deterioration and loss of mobility.

Ruff and colleagues examined bones of several hundred humans who lived in what is now Europe during the past 33,000 years. The team concluded that it was the emergence of agriculture that corresponded with a decline in mobility.

According to the researchers, the study, reported in the May 18 2015 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences illuminates what they described as a monumental change that has left modern humans susceptible to osteoporosis.

At the root of the finding, the researchers say, is the knowledge that putting bones under the “stress” of walking, lifting and running leads them to pack on more calcium and grow stronger.

“There was a lot of evidence that earlier humans had stronger bones and that weight-bearing exercise in modern humans prevents bone loss, but we didn’t know whether the shift to weaker bones over the past 30,000 years or so was driven by the rise in agriculture, diet, urbanization, domestication of the horse or other lifestyle changes,” said Ruff. “By analyzing many arm and leg bone samples from throughout that time span, we found that European humans’ bones grew weaker gradually as they developed and adopted agriculture and settled down to a more sedentary lifestyle, and that moving into cities and other factors had little impact.”