FRIDAY, March 28 HealthDay News) -- Physical exercise at a young
age increases bone health, and those benefits continue with age, a
new study of baseball players finds.
And people who continue to exercise as they grow older have even
greater bone health benefits, said lead researcher Stuart Warden,
associate dean for research at Indiana University's School of
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
The study "basically supports the idea that you need to exercise
when you are young to optimize your bone health," he said.
For the study, published online March 24 in
PNAS Early Edition, Warden studied 103 professional baseball
players, comparing bone mass, size and strength in their throwing
and non-throwing arms during active play and after retirement.
In their youth, "they increased the mass and size of the bone,"
he said. "As a result, the bone got stronger."
When they stopped playing ball, the bone mass benefit
disappeared, but the size benefit didn't, the study found. "As a
result, the strength remained," Warden said, explaining that the
strength of a bone is dependent on both its mass and size.
By their 80s, inactive players had lost all their bone mass
benefits. But they held onto more than half of the bone size
benefits and one-third of the bone strength benefits from their
"Even though they hadn't exercised in 50 years, they still had a bigger, stronger bone in their throwing arm," Warden said.
Players who remained active held onto 28 percent of their bone
mass benefits and half of the strength benefits from their youth,
The findings weren't a surprise, Warden said. The study included
only men, so Warden can't say for sure if the same would be true
for women, but he suspects it would be.
The study findings make sense to Heather McKay, director of the
Center for Hip Health and Mobility at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, who was not involved in the research.
"We know that childhood and the growing years offer that window of opportunity," she said of bone health. "What Dr. Warden has been able to do is drill down more specifically into the mechanisms that explain bone strength."
The bone strength achieved by exercise is bone-specific, said
McKay, who is also a professor of medicine. The study was able to
demonstrate that by measuring the throwing arms, which were much
stronger than the other arms.
The findings should inspire people of any age to keep moving, or
get moving, she said. While childhood is the ideal time to exercise
to build bones, she said, "in adulthood you can still retain your
skeleton. In older age, it's about maintenance."
Without maintenance, bone health declines, she said, and boosts
the risk of disabling fractures.
It's not known whether the findings would apply to the hips and
other sites prone to fractures from the bone-thinning disease
To learn about bone health for girls, visit the
Department of Health and Human Services.
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