Exercise Prevents Bone Loss in Post-Menopausal Women
A high-intensity exercise program prevents bone loss in early post-menopausal women with low bone density, according to a new study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2003;84:673–82).
A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of weight-bearing exercise on bone mass and bone density. Several recent reviews of these studies have confirmed the positive effects of exercise on bone status. Pressure placed on bones during exercise stimulates bone building, and therefore the bones that benefit are limited to those directly impacted by the activities performed. Complex exercise routines that involve many types of activities and impact many sites in the body have been shown to have the greatest benefit to overall bone density. Increased intensity of exercise has been consistently found to be associated with increased effect on bone. The frequency of participation in exercise is another important factor, and one study found that exercising fewer than two times per week did not improve bone health.
The current report is from a non-randomized controlled study of a high-intensity exercise program. The women who participated in this study were between one and eight years past menopause and were diagnosed with osteopenia (low bone density not severe enough to be labeled osteoporosis) upon entering the study. They had not used any medications that could affect bone mass, such as hormone replacement therapy, for at least five years before entering the study. Women in the control group were not advised to make any changes in lifestyle, while the exercise group enrolled in a training program that involved endurance and strength training, jumping, and stretching. The women in the exercise program were asked to participate in two group training sessions per week, each lasting about one hour, and two home sessions per week, each lasting about one half hour. The intensity of the program was increased slowly over the first seven months. The women in both groups underwent dietary assessment and were given supplemental calcium and vitamin D to bring their daily intake to of calcium to 1,500 mg and vitamin D to 500 IU.
After 14 months, a total of 100 women were evaluated for changes in bone density. A significant increase of 1.3% in bone density in the lumbar spine was found in the exercise group, while a decrease of 1.2% was found in the control group. Bone density in the hip did not change in the exercise group while a slight decrease of 0.8% was measured in the control group. Both groups experienced slight decreases in bone density in the neck of the femur (thigh bone).
This study demonstrates that a complex, high-intensity exercise program prevents bone loss in osteopenic women during the early post-menopausal years. Bone loss occurs at its highest rate during this stage of life. Other studies examining the effect of exercise on bone density during the first ten years after menopause have not demonstrated the same degree of benefit. The more intense program used in this study could therefore represent a model for health maintenance recommendations given to women in the early years after menopause.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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