Lack of physical activity is a known risk factor for osteoporosis, or severe bone thinning that puts you at risk for dangerous and painful fractures. Now a large study suggests that how active you are when you’re young can make all the difference in reducing your risk. It found that teens who spent the most time doing moderate to vigorous exercise were significantly less likely to have low bone mineral density by their mid-twenties.
The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Network Open, followed 2,569 people from age 12 to age 25. Researchers monitored the activity level of each participant by having them wear an accelerometer for a full week when the study began and again for a full week at age 14, 16, and 25. Participants also had bone density scans when they were around age 25.
According to the findings, “more time spent in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity in adolescence was associated with greater hip bone mineral density at age 25 years,” the authors wrote. Intensity was a key factor: Teens who did plenty of light physical activity did not have a reduced risk of lower bone density in their twenties.
The authors also noted that “bursts” of high-impact activity — such as jumping rope, jogging, or playing tennis — were beneficial. That makes sense, as high-impact and weight-bearing activities stimulate cells called osteoblasts.
“Peak bone mass occurs in young adulthood and is considered to be a marker of the risk of fracture and osteoporosis in later life,” lead study author Ahmed Elhakeem, PhD, told Healio Rheumatology. “The results highlight adolescence as a potentially important period for bone development through high intensity exercise, which could benefit future bone health and prevent osteoporosis in later life.”
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Elhakeem A, et al. Physical Activity Throughout Adolescence and Peak Hip Strength in Young Adults. JAMA Network Open. August 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.13463.
How Exercise Influences Bone Health. UW Health.
Laday J. High-intensity physical activity through adolescence helps prevent osteoporosis. Healio Rheumatology. September 24, 2020. https://www.healio.com/news/rheumatology/20200923/highintensity-physical-activity-through-adolescence-helps-prevent-osteoporosis.