FRIDAY, Feb. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Even a little walking
each week appears to lower the risk of hip fractures in men over
50, a new long-term study suggests.
Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital mined data from a
large study, collecting information on the activity and sitting
habits of almost 36,000 men over 24 years.
Their study relied on answers on questionnaires that the men
filled out every two years about how vigorously they walked -- at
an easy, average or brisk pace -- as well as their time spent
sitting and performing other activities, including tennis, lap
swimming and outdoor work.
During the 24-year follow-up period, 546 hip fractures were
reported, not including fractures due to cancer or a traumatic
event such as a fall during skiing or a car accident. Eighty-five
percent of the fractures involved "low-trauma" events such as
slipping, tripping or falling from a chair.
The results suggest that the more a man walked, and the more
vigorously he walked, the lower his risk for hip fracture as he
aged, the authors reported. For men whose primary activity was
walking, doing so at least four hours a week was associated with a
significant drop in hip fractures -- a 43 percent lower risk than
walking less than one hour a week.
"It's well known that physical activity helps to prevent hip fractures, that it helps to build bone and muscle tone. It can help with balance, too," said study author Diane Feskanich, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an associate epidemiologist in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"One thing we're pointing out here is that it doesn't necessarily have to be strenuous activity," Feskanich said. "A lot of studies have focused on the benefits of strenuous activity, but we found walking alone helped to prevent hip fractures, and when you come down to it, older people are often more comfortable with walking."
Because of different fracture risks, men of African American or
Asian ancestry were not included in the study, which was published
online Feb. 13 in the
American Journal of Public Health.
Dr. Neil Roth, an attending orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill
Hospital in New York City, and a specialist in sports medicine,
said bones are not static organs -- they're fluid. "The cells are
constantly breaking down bone and making new bone," he said.
The way to keep bones healthy and strong is by increasing stress
on the bone through activity, but not to overdo it, either, he
said. "You want to stay below the threshold that becomes dangerous
but also push it to the point that builds bone mass -- find the
sweet spot -- but that will be different for everybody," Roth
An obese 75-year-old man will not be able to do the same
activity as a 65-year-old who is in good shape, Roth noted. He also
said that while walking may help with some balance and
cardiovascular issues, it may not fully address those and other
"Balance in the elderly is a very complicated situation. If someone has better balance, they're much less likely to fall and the majority of hip fractures occur from a fall. But all sorts of things can affect balance in elderly -- inner ear issues, or vertigo," he said, as well as poor eyesight and medications. But he said a walker or cane can help people maintain a healthy walking routine.
Roth advises that men get cleared by their internist or
cardiologist, though, before starting an exercise routine, and that
they listen to their bodies during physical activity, especially if
they experience bone pain.
Feskanich said she and colleagues performed a similar earlier
study in women and the results almost mirrored this study: "We
found almost the exact same results in women and men, about the
She said the new findings may boost recommendations for more
walking. "But a good clinician is already telling their older
patients to be walking and active," she added.
Visit the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to learn more about
exercise and bone health.
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