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12-year study suggests exercise prevents fractures in elderly women


Osteoporosis fractures are common in elderly women; Kemmler et al. performed a 12-year study on women who were in early menopause at the time of entry. The number of study participants was relatively small at 85 and these were split into two groups. One group followed a supervised exercise program for 12 years while the other did not. Both groups received calcium and vitamin D supplements during the entire study.

At the 12-year point, women in the exercise group had a reduced overall fracture risk with a risk ratio of 0.32 (95% CI 0.08–1.05; P=0.074), which was not significant. Women who had followed the supervised exercise program did show significantly less bone loss at the lumbar spine and femoral neck. Bone mineral density (BMD) fell by 0.8% in the exercise group compared with 4% in the control group. The authors stress that further, larger studies with greater statistical power should now follow.

Editor's comment: This is one of the longest prospective, randomized studies evaluating the effect of exercise on bone health in adults. Even in these young menopausal women at low risk of fracture, the incidence of new fractures was lower among those who exercised vs. those who did not, and BMD values tended to decrease more slowly with exercise. Bone mass is only one factor involved in age-related bone loss but the positive impact of exercise warrants reassessment in prevention programs.

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