The time of day you exercise could be key in slashing the risk of arthritis

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As we age it is accepted that many of us will see a decline in our physical health and fitness.

This includes the deterioration of our joints and bones, making injuries and conditions such as arthritis more likely.

While it may seem like there isn’t much we can do to prevent this, new research has found our exercise habits could actually make a significant difference.

A study, by the University of Manchester, revealed that exercising at the same time every day could shield against bone and joint deterioration.

This could therefore help promote good physical health and fitness later in life, researchers have said.

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In a university release, senior author Judith Hoyland explained: “Among the many health challenges, the age-related musculoskeletal decline – and its adverse consequences – is a major burden to individuals.

“We have identified a new clock mechanism underlying skeletal ageing, which could have far-reaching impacts on understanding frailty and designing more efficient treatment timing of exercise and physiotherapy to maintain good skeletal health and mobility.”

According to the team, this is linked to our circadian rhythm and its effect on our physical and mental health, as well as our behaviour.

Lucy Donaldson, director of research and health intelligence at collaborating organisation Versus Arthritis, said: “The daily 24-hour cycle that our bodies follow, such as our internal temperature dropping when we sleep and our blood pressure rising at certain times of day, is known as our circadian rhythm.

“There are processes inside our body which keep this rhythm going, known as ‘clocks,’ which are all linked to our central body clock in the brain.”

Previous studies have suggested that disruption to these clocks can leave people at greater risk for certain health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

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But this is the first time it has been linked to the condition of the body’s intervertebral disk and cartilage.

“We have, in effect, identified a new mechanism to understand how our body clocks align to the external environment,” said Professor Qing-Jun Meng from the University of Manchester.

“The clocks have evolved to prepare you for predictable rhythmic changes in the environment.”

It is these “predictable rhythmic changes” that could hold the key to how exercising at the same time can shield from musculoskeletal decline.

“Our results showed that physical activities in the morning, associated with daily patterns of sleep/wake cycle, convey timing information from the light-sensitive central clock in the brain to the weight-bearing skeletal tissues,” said Prof Meng.

“In effect it’s telling your skeletal system it’s time to wake up.

“But when this alignment is uncoupled with the brain, then, like in other organs and tissues, it can result in adverse impacts on your physical health. If you are constantly changing the time you exercise, you may be more prone to this desynchronization.”

As part of this study, mice were exercised on a treadmill during what was typically their “rest time”.

The team then analysed the condition of the animals’ intervertebral discs or cartilage explants in the lab.

Although this study was conducted on mice, the team said the joint and disk makeup of the rodents suggests a similar result would be seen among humans.

Lucy added: “This early research in mice explores a link between the local clocks in joint cartilage and the central body clock in the brain, which the results suggest contribute to how quickly our bones and cartilage deteriorate over time.

“The findings show that when these clocks go out of sync, our bones and cartilage deteriorate faster, but when they’re aligned, the process is slowed down.

“Exercising at certain times of day helps to keep the clocks in sync and so could slow the progression of arthritis.”

However, Prof Meng noted that even if you mix up when you exercise, but establish some sort of a pattern overall, “your body clocks will eventually realign with each other and you will adapt to it”.

“And our work showed that clocks in skeletal tissues of older animals remain responsive to daily patterns of exercise,” he said.

“As such, walking groups organised for older people could be more beneficial for their health if they happen at a similar time every day.”

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