Over 65 -- More Exercise, Less Broken Hips

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

ATLANTA-Among older people, osteoporosis is a common disorder. It is characterized by fragile bones due to reduced bone mass (density). The fragile bones tend to fracture.

Research has found that bone mass can be increased in older women by physical activity. To determine whether physical activity can actually reduce the risk for broken hips, a large multicenter study was done. Nearly 10,000 women over 65 years of age were evaluated. The results of this important prospective (forward looking) study appeared in the July 15,1998 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Edward W. Gregg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his colleagues at medical centers throughout the United States studied the women for an average of 7.6 years and found that higher levels of leisure time, sport activity, and heavy household chores and fewer hours of sitting daily were associated with a significantly reduced risk of broken (fractured) hip bones.

Further, Dr. Gregg's group found that women who were very active and engaged in activities such as tennis or aerobic dance had the greatest (36%) reduction in hip fractures. Moreover, women who did lower-intensity activities such as walking, gardening, or social dancing for at least an hour a week also had significant reduction of risk for hip fractures.

Physical exercise and activity can be a very helpful health measure. Regular exercise is associated with reduced risks for heart attack, blood vessel disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, obesity, and cognitive (thought) decline. and it leads to an overall sense of well-being.

Exercise can clearly reduce the chances for broken bones and so prevent serious health consequences. The fact that the population studied by Gregg and colleagues was over 65 is particularly instructive. It is clearly never too late to reap the health benefits of exercise.

Sources: Gregg EW, Cauley JA, Seeley DG, Ensrud KE, Bauer DC. Physical activity and osteoporotic fracture risk in older women. The Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group. Ann Intern Med 1998;129:81-88.

Rosenberg IH. Let's get physical. Ann Intern Med 1998; 129:133-134.

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