Mya Care Blogger 18 Aug 2023

Muscle building is known to have many benefits for both cartilage and bone. As aging affects muscle mass and strength, it is important to start building muscle early in order to delay bone loss.

The article below aims to explain why building muscles in your 30s and 40s greatly helps prevent unnecessary cartilage and bone issues in later years. Benefits and exercise tips are also discussed.

The Relationship Between Muscle, Bone, and Cartilage

Muscles and bones share many vital functions that help us to move and engage physically in our day-to-day activities. The feedback between them ensures their proper maintenance and has far-reaching effects on every other tissue and system of the body. A healthy relationship between the two ensures that overall metabolism is kept in check and contributes positively towards optimal immunity, regeneration, hormonal signaling, and nerve health.

The Metabolic Impact of Muscle and Bone. The musculoskeletal system is the largest organ system in the body and holds some of the greatest weight in terms of energy expenditure. When we exercise or perform physical activity, the metabolic rate of the muscles and bones starts rising. This encourages them to make use of stored energy substrates, such as glycogen and fat, in order to produce more energy and hormones. These, in turn, help to regulate the overall metabolism of every other organ system in the body, promoting fluctuations in activity and cell output that would not be possible without the contribution of the musculoskeletal system. When not exercising, a large portion of our overall energy requirements diminish, as does the activity of other body systems.

Muscle and Bone Maintain Each Other. Even in the absence of physical activity, muscle mass, and strength can contribute to bone formation by exerting additional pressure.[1] When a muscle contracts, its strength increases the force it is capable of generating. The bones respond by getting stronger in order to sustain the applied force from the muscle. The same can be said of muscle in response to the bone. The muscle is encouraged to grow when the bones do so that they can support their weight and move them around.[2]

Cartilage As an Extension of Bone and Muscle. Cartilage protects the bones from wear and tear by preventing them from grinding against one another and from absorbing too much mechanical stress. It does not receive its nutrients directly from the bloodstream. Instead, it receives them passively through diffusion from nearby bone and muscle. Similar to their influence on bone and muscle mass, the compressive forces that act on cartilage increase the passive diffusion of nutrients to them.[3] These forces may arise due to the forces exerted by muscle contraction[4] or bone themselves. Studies suggest that bone and cartilage perfuse each other via micro-sized holes, capable of influencing one another by similar chemical signals and hormones they produce. Elevations in muscle mass, as well as bone, are linked to increased cartilage thickness[5] [6], yet over-exertion can reduce cartilage thickness and cause the bone to become vulnerable to higher mechanical stress and fractures. In these ways, cartilage is a reflection of bone and muscle health that responds to their growth and development.

Physical Activity is Key for Musculoskeletal Longevity. It is a common fact that weight-bearing exercises increase bone mass and enhance the ability of bone to retain minerals. The reason for this is related to the force of gravity and the impact of this kind of activity on the bone. The force generated in weight-bearing exercise exerts pressure on bone cells, both externally and internally, due to the pulsatile movement of fluid through the bone matrix. The movement and pressure stimulate the release of growth factors and an electrical current in bone, which facilitates its growth and expansion, and helps dictate its optimal shape.

The Bone-Muscle Relationship During Aging

The reason we lose bone and muscle as we age is attributed to a combination of lower physical activity levels, hormonal decline, an increase in aged (senescent) cells, and a lifetime accumulation of (micro) damage due to oxidative stress that escaped repair. All of these factors serve to impact the hormonal and metabolic health of the bones and muscles.

Bone Morphogenic Protein as an Indicator of Bone and Muscle Aging. One prime example pertains to age-related elevations of bone morphogenic protein (BMP). When BMP levels are moderate, it helps to stimulate optimal bone mineral balance and muscle growth. When too high or low, BMP can cause the opposite problem, promoting bone resorption[7], mineral density loss, suppressed regeneration, and muscle atrophy[8]. These are commonly seen in aged individuals with osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and osteoarthritis. In turn, muscle atrophy contributes towards weakening the bones due to a lower expression of signals that would keep bone density in balance.

Activity as the Most Potent Musculoskeletal Hormone Stabilizer. Exercise has been shown to regulate BMP levels, simultaneously increasing the growth of bone and muscle, as well as promoting tissue regeneration and reductions in senescent cells. To ensure that both bones and muscles remain in good shape, it is vital to keep up one’s exercise routine throughout one’s life.

Muscle Loss and Maintenance Throughout the Lifespan

Muscle building can be done at any age, yet the benefits for bone are a lot more pronounced in those who have been consistently doing so from a younger age. This is due to age-related changes in muscle loss and maintenance, as described briefly below.

At What Age Do We Lose Muscle? Muscle mass begins to decline gradually from the third decade of life, and muscle strength begins to decline after reaching 40. During the 6th decade of life, muscle size and strength can decline by as much as 15% and reach a 30% reduction during the 8th decade. This decline can occur more rapidly for women than for men after women reach menopause. These are merely average statistics, and it is important to understand that the process can be sped up or slowed down. The less active a person’s lifestyle, the quicker age-related muscle and bone loss will occur.

Common Age-Related Muscle Deficits. Age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia, which frequently occurs in connection to bone density loss. Common symptoms of sarcopenia include reduced motor coordination, visual acuity loss, and a decreased ability to balance. Senior individuals who were physically active for most of their lives are usually still capable of building muscle. The body contributes towards counteracting age-related muscle impairments in the elderly. Just as in younger individuals, it can improve muscle strength and mass relative to the individual’s maximum voluntary strength.[9] The main differences pertain to the amount of muscle that develops - the lesser the quality of the muscle formed, the lower the muscle elasticity and reduced total output. Muscle loss is more pronounced in the lower extremities, which is often the result of being less physically active.

Where and When to Actively Focus. Given these observations, starting to exercise at a younger age is important for still being able to exercise optimally during old age. Older individuals can focus on building muscle in the lower extremities and in vulnerable areas, such as the hip and spine. Balance and coordination are also important for keeping up the ability to move without risking falls and fractures.

6 Anti-Aging Bone Benefits of Mid-Life Muscle Building

The bones and cartilage can benefit from building muscle in one’s 30s and 40s in several ways, a few of which are discussed below.

  1. Mid-Life Muscle Building Acts as a Buffer for Age-Related Muscle Loss. While aging is inevitable, consistent muscle building over the decades can act as a buffer against age-related bone loss. Exercise-induced gains in bone mass have been shown to be roughly 1-10% across the lifespan[10], while age-related bone loss is usually greater (between 15-30% for those between 60-80 years old). This suggests that consistent muscle development has the potential to delay bone loss by approximately 5-66% in one’s 60s and 2-33% in one’s 80s. Research reveals that muscle development is more effective before one reaches 40 years of age, with the most improvements being seen prior. [11] Older individuals are still able to build muscle, yet the process becomes progressively slower and does not give rise to as much. Thus, the more muscle one develops during young adulthood, the more bone and muscle mass they have to “spend” during aging and the less risk they have of acquiring bone-related diseases.
  2. Physical Activity at Mid-Life Predicts More During Old Age. Following on from the previous point, there are several long-term studies that highlight the significance of exercise at all phases of life and how they have accumulating benefits. With age, one becomes more sedentary, often sitting more than moving. This is thought to be connected to hip bone loss and increased prevalence of hip fractures in the elderly, as well as bone loss in other lower extremities and reduced overall mobility. The more exercise one does during each decade promotes longevity and is associated with more physical activity for a longer period of time during old age[12]. This goes hand-in-hand with prolonged and improved physical functionality, mobility, the risk of accidents and falls, and the health of the bones.
  3. Muscle Protects Bones from Shock and Associated Risks. In older adults, higher physical activity levels and muscle strength are linked with a reduced risk of incurring fractures in both men and women.[13] There is plenty of evidence to suggest that muscles act as shock absorbers for our bones, protecting them from jarring impacts. When muscles stretch and contract, they exhibit similar viscoelastic properties to those of man-made shock absorbers. Observational studies have shown that these properties are likely to be more developed in athletes, who have stronger muscles and can use them to shield their bones more when engaging in high-impact activities. This is how some athletes can land from 2-3m heights without harming their knees or use martial arts to break pieces of wood in half without damaging their hands.[14] Hence, building strong muscles in one’s 30s and 40s can go a long way toward shielding bones from fractures due to accidental falls.
  4. Cartilage Decline is Less in Older Adults with Better Muscle. Throughout life, cartilage can be better protected with stronger muscles that lower the stress of jarring impacts on the bones. Building muscle also helps to keep fat in check, which keeps the load off the joints and is associated with a considerably reduced risk for both sarcopenia and osteoarthritis in old age.[15] Not only is muscle building essential for prevention but it is recognized as a complementary therapy for enhancing cartilage regeneration in those with osteoarthritis. [16]
  5. Muscle Speeds Up Fracture Healing Time. In older adults still capable of bodybuilding, it may be possible to reduce the risks associated with accidental bone fractures well after 70. A few studies and many case reports have documented that using muscle grafts over exposed bone injuries substantially helps to speed up the healing process and promotes better fracture regeneration.[17] Exercising also stimulates stem cells from the bone marrow to mobilize into the cartilage and bone tissues, directly facilitating tissue regeneration. Building muscle when one is young and maintaining it while aging can help to facilitate regenerative processes for much longer and lower the risk of hospitalization and mortality, especially associated with hip fractures.
  6. Working Bone and Muscle May Protect Against Age-Related Diseases. Increasing the density of both bone and muscle early on and throughout the aging process, if possible, can help lower the risk of acquiring age-related diseases. This ties in with their metabolic effects and the compounds they secrete during physical activity, which are known to balance immune function and insulin secretion. Their mass also helps to dictate the amounts of these compounds they can produce and the degree to which they can stabilize processes at other body sites. These effects most certainly protect the musculoskeletal system against age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis, yet also extend towards cognitive decline, neurodegenerative disorders, obesity, and other metabolic conditions. [18]

Anti-Aging Exercise Tips

For those looking to work out in order to add some more physically active years to their lives later on, the suggestions below may be useful.

Full-Body Workouts Lead to Optimal Skeletal Preservation. As exercising a muscle improves its size and strength and the bone that supports it, it is important to engage in full-body workouts and to focus on areas that are more vulnerable to deterioration. While building select muscles may have value for overall body muscle strength (as revealed in hand grip strength testing), the same does not apply to the bone, which is far more selective and typically responds to local input. This is supported by several studies. For example, the racket arm of a tennis player is used the most during play and was demonstrated to have a 35% thicker bone matrix than that of the other arm. During aging, the hips and spine are known to deteriorate more than other body areas and are common causes of age-related aches, pains and injuries. These are important areas of focus for building bone and muscle, as are the legs and arms. It has been shown that the upper extremities can help to compensate for very old individuals later on who have difficulty moving, yet this phase of aging can easily be delayed by keeping the lower extremities fit as well.

Keep Knee-Intensive Exercise Balanced for Cartilage Support. Studies show that high-intensity cycling and running for 12 weeks can promote wear and tear on the cartilage and reduce its content by as much as 1.5% and 2.21%, respectively. The participants were all young, healthy individuals. On the other hand, both of these exercises have been shown to increase cartilage density over the course of a week, while squats had no effect on cartilage density at all.[19] This suggests that cycling and jogging can cause the cartilage to take the strain and should be done moderately. If done at a high intensity on a consistent basis, these may increase the risk of early cartilage degeneration and osteoarthritis later in life.

Build a Wide Variety of Exercises to Allow for Better Regeneration. Repetitive exercise is great for muscle building, yet excessive amounts on a daily basis can also increase the risk of injury and promote wear and tear on cartilage and bone. Alternating exercises daily and opting for a wider variety of physical activity can help to lessen the load on selective muscles and bones, give more time for repair in between, as well as help to build upon a more balanced selection of them. It might help to be able to choose from a range of different stretches, balance-enhancing exercises, muscle-building exercises, and aerobics (both indoors and outdoors), as well as physical activities that are enjoyable, such as swimming, walking, or cycling.


Muscle, bone, and cartilage are intimately connected and depend upon physical activity to grow and be well maintained. Muscle building helps to increase muscle strength and mass, which, alongside gravity and the pressure exerted by weight-bearing exercise, contributes an additional force that improves bone density and strength. The aging process slows muscle building down and lends itself towards reductions in muscle strength and quality, irrespective of physical activity levels. Hence, consistent muscle building from young adulthood has far-reaching benefits and is capable of delaying bone and muscle aging by acting as a buffer against muscle and bone losses. Bone responds to localized muscle activity; therefore, it is important to opt for full-body workouts in order to improve overall bone strength and density. Varying one’s exercise routine daily helps to promote optimal regeneration, lowers injury risk, and detracts from cartilage degeneration.

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