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Can vigorous exercise play a role in osteoporosis prevention? A review

Abstract

Part of the reduction in bone density observed in older people is due to disuse rather than the aging process itself. While some mechanical stress is needed to maintain optimal bone density, it is not clear just which types of exercise are most valuable or whether appropriate exercise might reduce the need for estrogen therapy in postmenopausal women.

Cross-sectional studies. Physical activity, aerobic fitness, and strength have all been correlated with bone density. Young people who use a specific part of the body in vigorous exercise exhibit enhanced bone density in that part of the body, but not necessarily in other regions. Older people who have been active for many years seem to exhibit generally enhanced bone density.

Prospective studies. Most regimens which used vigorous aerobic and strength training enhanced bone density, but walking is relatively ineffective for prevention of postmenopausal bone loss. Most studies using specific bone-loading exercise have shown substantial increases in bone density at the specific sites loaded. Elderly people seem capable of responding favorably to vigorous exercise. No direct comparisons of exercise and estrogen therapy have been reported.

Excessive exercise. Extremely high volumes of exercise may overwhelm a person's adaptive capacity, leading to stress fractures. For example, young women athletes who suffer from menstrual dysfunction exhibit reduced bone density and musculoskeletal disorders.

Clinical implication. Although the evidence is far from conclusive, an exercise regimen should probably include vigorous total body exercise, including strength and aerobic training.

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Gutin, B., Kasper, M.J. Can vigorous exercise play a role in osteoporosis prevention? A review. Osteoporosis Int 2, 55–69 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01623838

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Keywords

  • Bone density
  • Osteoporosis
  • Physical activity
  • Strength training