Older Australians’ inactivity is a danger to bone health: research

elderly woman with tennis racket

New research revealing one in five older Australians is not partaking in any form of regular exercise has prompted experts to warn about the impact of little to no physical activity on bone health.

Coinciding with World Osteoporosis Day today (October 20), key findings from the Ostelin Movement Index shows Australians have limited concern for bone health with one in five (20%) claiming there are other more pressing health issues to worry about.

This is despite muscoskeletal conditions such as osteoporosis impacting double the number of Australians than cardiovascular-related conditions.  

The research follows a study undertaken at Deakin University which revealed that moderate impact weight bearing activities such as step-ups, jumping side-to-side or skipping, coupled with strength and power training, effectively improve bone health and muscle strength in older adults who are at increased risk of falls and fractures.

The outcomes of the research indicate that more targeted and personalised exercise guidelines are needed for bone health, raising questions around the benefits of traditional recommendations to engage solely in lower-impact weight bearing activities like walking and swimming, Ostelin says. This is critical information for the 1.2 million Australians estimated to have osteoporosis and 6.3 million affected by low bone density.

However, this new position on exercise has caused some confusion for consumers and sufferers alike with few aware of what they should be doing in order to promote stronger bones, says Ostelin.

Despite 75% of Australians saying they are now aware of the link between vitamin D and bone health, less than one in five (17%) knows what type of exercises they should be doing to maintain strong bones.

Professor Robin Daly, who led the Deakin University research team, says both pieces of research highlight the need for further education around the important link between exercise and bone health.

“While any form of physical activity is better than none for improving overall health, not all exercise is equal when it comes to stronger bones,” he says.

“Contrary to popular belief, walking alone offers little osteogenic benefits and promoting an increase in muscle power—or the ability to produce force rapidly—has emerged as a more crucial variable than simply trying to gain muscle strength or mass as we age.

“Essentially, this means that exercise programs incorporating a diverse range of weight bearing activities in combination with higher speed strength training are likely to be more effective in slowing bone deterioration and improving functional performance like speed and mobility.”

Prof Daly saysthat while osteoporosis is a significant health problem, in some cases it can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes including exercise and exposure to sunlight.

“It’s imperative that we act now to raise greater awareness of the seriousness of the condition which impacts millions of Australians and reinforce the simple steps we all can take encourage proactive bone health management,” he says.

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