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Workouts Urge Stem Cells To Develop Into Bone Cells

We can add one more benefit to the long list of reasons why we should be exercising on a regular basis, even if we do them moderately every other day of the week. Researchers at McMaster University, Canada have now found that workouts trigger the influential stem cells to develop into bone cells rather than fat, thus improving the body’s ability and capacity to produce blood. (1)

The study found that the body’s mesenchymal stem cells in particular had the maximum possibility to convert to bone rather than fat cells depending on the path they follow. Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent in nature and have the ability to differentiate into many cell types such as bone cells, cartilage cells or fat cells. (2)

The study using mice was conducted by the Department of Kinesiology of McMaster University. The research lead by associate professor Gianni Parise, PhD, studied mice which had been conditioned on treadmill and arrived at the conclusion that aerobic exercises done by them triggered those stem cells to convert to bone cells rather than fat cells. This despite the fact that the mice were worked out for less than one hour every other day of the week, yet it had a significant effect in the mice’s blood production. The findings for these active mice were then compared to those for sedentary mice where it was found that the same stem cells had a greater probability of turning into fat cells thus impairing blood production. (3)

As per Parise, whose research result was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, “The interesting thing was that a modest exercise program was able to significantly increase blood cells in the marrow and in circulation. What we’re suggesting is that exercise is a potent stimulus — enough of a stimulus to actually trigger a switch in these mesenchymal stem cells.” (4)

The research also indicated that the composition of the type of cells present in the bone marrow cavity greatly affected the productivity of the blood stem cells. If the bone marrow cavity is filled with more fat cells, then the blood stem cells become less effective and productive. Fat cells start to fill up the bone marrow cavity under conditions of inactivity or low activity. On the other hand, the presence of bone stem cells improves the environment in which blood stem cells produce blood. The blood stem cells strengthens the immune system, allows for more efficient uptake of oxygen, helps blood clot formation on wounds

Professor Parise even suggests that there is a foreseeable future when non-medicinal treatments for blood-related disorders may be prescribed. He extrapolates that in certain situations the beneficial impact that exercises have are almost comparable to drug intervention benefits.* He adds, “Exercise has the ability to impact stem cell biology. It has the ability to influence how they differentiate.”

Some benefits of exercises include the reduction of risk of developing heart problems, lowering blood pressure, increasing cardiac output, retarding bone degeneration, lowering LDL, reducing the risk of developing colon and breast cancers, reduction of levels of the stress hormone, improving motor functions and balance in older adults, improving glucose tolerance, reducing insulin tolerance,  increasing myocardial thickness, improving learning and cognitive functions, enabling easier and faster post-operative recovery, reducing neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases, strengthening the immune system and reducing synaptic anomalies and deficiencies


  1. Exercise Boosts Health by Influencing Stem Cells to Become Bone, Not Fat, Researchers Find; Science Daily; September, 2011;
  2. Mesenchymal Stem Cells; Wikipedia; August, 2011;
  3. Researchers Find Exercise Boosts Health By Triggering Stem Cells To Become Bone, Not Fat; McMaster University – Science Career & Cooperative Education; September, 2011;
  4. Stem Cells Influenced To Become Bone Rather Than Fat Through Physical Exercise; Stem Cell Digest; September, 2011;

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Monica is the PR and Outreach Manager and Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. She’s an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and has a B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she played varsity soccer for four years. Monica pulls from her experience in athletics and health to contribute to AlgaeCal and has also been featured on myfitnesspal blog, Prevention, and Huffington Post.