Exercise Prevents Bone Loss after Menopause
Two years of regular, high-intensity exercise prevents bone loss and improves fitness, strength, and risk of heart disease in early postmenopausal women, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine (2004;164:1084–91).
Women usually lose bone mass after menopause, mostly in the first ten years; severely low bone density is known as osteoporosis, a chronic condition marked by increased susceptibility to bone fractures. A number of studies have examined the role of exercise in preventing bone loss and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. A growing body of evidence shows that regular weight-bearing exercise can be preventative, though the most beneficial frequency, intensity, and types of exercise have not yet been determined.
The current study followed 83 women who elected to enroll in a high-intensity exercise program or to make no change in their lifestyle for 26 months. At the study’s beginning, all the women were between one and eight years past menopause and had low bone density, though not severe enough to be labeled osteoporosis. Their diets were analyzed and all of the women were given supplements to bring their total daily intake of calcium to 1,500 mg and vitamin D to 500 IU. The women in the exercise program participated in two group training sessions per week, each lasting about one hour, and two home sessions per week, each lasting about one-half hour. The program included endurance exercises, jumping, strength training, and stretching exercises, with slowly increasing intensity over the first seven months.
After 26 months, the exercising women gained significant bone mass in the spine, while women who were not in the exercise program lost bone mass in the spine. The exercising women also had significantly less bone loss in the hip than women who did not exercise, but bone loss in the wrist was similar in both groups. The exercising group had lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels at the end of the study, and they had less back pain and greater fitness and strength than the nonexercise group.
This study demonstrates that regularly participating in a comprehensive, high-intensity exercise program can prevent women’s bone loss during the early postmenopausal years. Comparing these final results with this study’s more modest findings after 14 months, and from other shorter studies, suggests that exercise benefits become more pronounced the longer one continues the program. The intense and comprehensive exercise program used in this study might partly explain the high degree of observed benefit. Finally, general improvements in risk of heart disease, fitness, and strength were also achieved with this exercise program, suggesting that it could be a model for exercise recommendations for women in the early years after menopause.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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