Previous studies suggest that load-bearing physical activity might shield men and women from bone loss, which occurs as part of the aging process. But Lorentzon and his colleagues wondered if the link would hold true in a very large study that followed men over a five-year period. To find out, the researchers evaluated 833 men who were 18- to 20-years old at the start of the study. The researchers measured the participants' bone mass and collected information about their exercise habits. Five years later the recruits came back to the lab to report activity levels and get bone scans again.
The researchers discovered that men who both started off with a high level of load-bearing exercise at the study's start and those who stepped up the pace had a better chance at building bone than men who remained sedentary or those who slacked off during the five year period. They found that for every hour of increased physical activity during the five-year study, the men in this study gained bone mass.
The study found that recruits who participated in load-bearing sports for four hours a week or more showed an increase in hip bone density of 1.3 percent. At the same time, men who remained sedentary during the five year study lost about 2.1 percent of bone mass in the hip, a worrisome finding because thinning hip bones are more likely to break later in life. Hip fractures in men often lead to serious disability and complications, including life-threatening post-surgery infections and cardiovascular events.
This study was conducted in white men recruited mostly from the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. However, Lorentzon noted the findings likely apply to Caucasian men in the United States and in other countries, and additional research must be
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