Staying active gives you stronger bones


Think you should slow down as you get older? Think again!

Weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises are important for building bone strength and preventing osteoporosis, however, new research shows that even just getting your 10,000 steps a day can help to keep bones strong.

The study, led by Durham University with Newcastle University found that people in their sixties who spent a lot of time sitting down had weaker bones which increased their risk of developing fragility fractures. The researchers also found that men spent more time sitting still than women and therefore had weaker bones, particularly in their lower back. This is the first study to show that a sedentary lifestyle in men is associated with weaker bones and osteoporosis.

More than half a million fragility fractures – where a fracture occurs from a fall at standing height or less – happen each year in the UK. It is estimated that by 2025, that number will have risen by 27%.

Dr Karen Hind from the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University, said: “We know that excessive sedentary time can lower someone’s metabolism which can lead to being overweight and Type 2 diabetes. What we now know is that being inactive is also associated with lower bone strength and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

“Osteoporosis is a disease that affects older people but by encouraging this age group to keep active, it will help improve their bone health.”

The research, published in the Journal of Public Health, was carried out by academics from Durham and Newcastle Universities.  The research team followed 214 men and women aged 62, from Newcastle University’s Thousand Families Study.

Each participant wore a monitor for seven consecutive days which measured their physical activity and sedentary time. The number of daily steps was also recorded, and then compared with public health recommendations. The participants’ hips and spines were scanned to measure their bone density. Participants involved in 150 minutes of light physical activity a week had better bone strength than the more sedentary participants. The men who spent more than 84 minutes per day sitting still, compared to the average of 52 minutes, had 22% lower bone density in their spine. The researchers say the impact on their bone density is similar to that of smoking which is also a risk factor for osteoporosis.

The economic and personal costs of osteoporosis are substantial – in the UK the direct costs of fragility fractures are estimated to be £.4.4 billion which includes £1.1 billion for social care.

The participants in the study all live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Public Health England statistics indicate that the North East of England has the greatest proportion of physically inactive adults and the highest incidence of hip fractures compared to the rest of the UK.

The take away message from the researchers is: stay active and reduce sedentary time.  The study shows that hitting the daily target of 10,000 steps and avoiding long periods of sedentary time will increase bone strength. They say that even making daily lifestyle hacks can make a difference, such as parking the car further away from the shopping centre or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

Dr Hind added: “Currently there are no specific guidelines for this age group to encourage light physical activity or to reduce sedentary time. Yet, as people retire they are more likely to increase the time they spend watching television and reduce their daily step count.

“It would be great to see initiatives that specifically target this group to increase their awareness of the importance of staying active and reducing the amount of time spent sitting still.”

The study was funded by JGW Patterson Foundation and The National Institute for Health Research.