A new study shows that frail bones related to leading a sedentary life are not an exclusive modern day condition. Scientists found that our ancestors started losing bone density about 33,000 years ago when they switched from a more active hunting and gathering lifestyle to a sedentary, agricultural setting.
Scientists claim that horse domestication and invention of wheel pushed our ancestors into a sedentary life since the early days of civilization.
As gatherers and hunters, humans had to walk a lot to find sources of food and survive. But as they learned how to plant crops and have a stable source of food, they reduced the strenuous daily routine of walking which took a toll on the health of their leg bones, researchers explain.
During their study, the research team analyzed human remains dating from different time spans over the course of the last 33,000 years. They learned that frail bones were a common condition since the Middle Ages, at least in Europe. So, the findings may indicate that an overall sedentary life facilitated by farming weakened our bones, rather than the urbanization or drastic diet changes of the modern day.
Other scientists had long suggested that cavemen had much stronger bones than ancient farmers, so modern day weight-lifting training might help us maintain bone density. Still, researchers were surprised to learn that the shift to agriculture was the most probable cause that weakened our ancestors’ bones.
Other studies revealed that exercise and games that involved load-bearing helped children to assimilate more calcium and vitamin D in their bones and prevent frail bones later in life.
Cavemen, on the other hand, had strong bones all their lives. In order to unlock their secret, scientists analyzed nearly 2,000 human remains from the Stone Age, when people were hunters or gatherers, up to modern days through the Roman Empire period and Industrial Revolution.
After they have x-rayed the remains, they introduced the data in a computer and looked for a pattern. They learned that leg bones became increasingly thinner and prone to fractures and osteoporosis almost 7,000 years ago during the last part of the Stone Age.
During that period, also known as the Neolithic era, humans started to practice agriculture although their tools were less than rudimentary. But they continued perfecting the craft for 5,000 more years.
So, the transition between a very active life as a hunter or gatherer to a fully sedentary life (during the Roman Empire) took thousands of years. The decline in leg bone density was also gradual and already reached modern-day levels in Medieval times, researchers found.
“By the medieval period, bones were about the same strength that they are today,”
Changes in bone density in other parts of the bodies were less obvious than those in the legs, which suggests that structural changes were linked to sedentary life, rather than a change in diet, scientists explained.
Image Source: Sports Keeda
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