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Exercise and bone density

Exercise is good for us, whatever the reason we do it. Younger women are advised to take aerobic exercise as a way of attaining and maintaining peak bone mass in order to ameliorate postmenopausal bone losses and to provide some protection against fractures later in life. Does aerobic exercise have effects on bone density in postmenopausal women? A systematic review [1] says that the evidence is sparse and effects lacking.


The search was limited to MEDLINE from January 1978 looking for English language papers only; 1978 was chosen since this was the year when bone mineral density measurements became useful. Trials had to have a comparison nonexercise group and look at bone density at the hip.


Six studies were found, only two of which were randomised. Women included had ages from the early 60s to mid 70s and who exercised for up to one year. The randomised studies had most of the women studied - 134 in total, though because of subgroups, with and without calcium supplementation, numbers in any particular group were small.

While there was an intensively statistical approach, the raw results were simple. Whether measurements were made at the femoral neck, trochanter or Ward's triangle, with or without calcium supplementation, there were no measurable changes in bone density after exercise compared with before exercise or with nonexercise controls.


Disappointing that there is not more information. Certainly insufficient information on which to base any recommendations, apart from the fact that exercise is a good thing for many other reasons.


  1. GA Kelley. Aerobic exercise and bone density at the hip in postmenopausal women: a meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine 1998 27: 798-807.

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