Northside Hospital - The role of running in bone regeneration and preventing osteoporosis in women

The role of running in bone regeneration and preventing osteoporosis in women

Q&A with Matthew T. Simmons, MD

What is osteoporosis and why should we be concerned about it?
Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density in the human body. As that happens, bones become more fragile and are at a higher risk of fracture. Fractures associated with osteoporosis can often be debilitating and life changing. As there are no physical manifestations or symptoms of the disease, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for screening. Early recognition and proper treatment are always best.

Is it a bigger issue for women than men?
Not necessarily. While the rates of osteoporosis are higher in women (women are four times as likely to develop osteoporosis over their lifetime), the disease can affect men and women alike. Studies also suggest that women have a faster rate of bone density loss compared to their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, have a higher risk of fractures associated with osteoporosis.

Based on the evidence, more screening measures are tailored toward women. In certain instances, male screening may also be recommended.

Why is it important to start young in trying to prevent osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis stems from many factors – some are controllable, others are not – and cannot be attributed to an isolated cause. Early prevention can help to build a lifetime of good habits that make bone density issues less likely with aging. Eating a balanced diet with adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight have all been shown to lower risk.

Aging certainly plays a role in osteoporosis risk, in particular, non-modifiable risk factors including menopause and family history of osteoporosis. That makes lifestyle and other controllable features very important in prevention of bone mineral density loss and reduction of fracture risk.

Does being post-menopausal make a difference?
The hormonal changes associated with menopause certainly raise the risk of bone density loss. It is important to note, however, that most females reach a peak bone density prior to menopause. With the loss of estrogen levels in post-menopause, the speed at which bone density loss occurs can increase leading to further risk. Some studies suggest that females may lose up to 20 percent of bone mass in the first 5-10 years following menopause.

Do speed/distance/frequency of runs make a difference?
No specific data exists to identify a particular regimen that works best to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. We have data suggesting excessive exercise may lead to higher risk due to hormonal changes during pre-menopausal years. Scientific studies associated with osteoporosis and exercise have shown the greatest benefit in decreasing risk of fracture associated with osteoporosis. Research suggests an exercise routine lasting 30 minutes in duration, performed three times per week, can be associated with decreased risk of fracture associated with osteoporosis.

Experts have reported improvement with various forms of exercise including walking, jogging, and running. Non-weight bearing progressive resistance activities are also shown to reduce fracture risk. Interestingly, the benefit of exercise in risk reduction decreases with cessation of activity. In general, the best recommendation is to pick an exercise regimen that is enjoyable and can be maintained to ensure long-term compliance.

Is any age too late to start running to make a difference?
No age is too late. Again, the best solution is to pick an exercise regimen that is enjoyable and sustainable.

Dr. Matthew T. Simmons is a fellowship-trained sports medicine physician at Northside Hospital, specializing in non-operative orthopedics. Visit for more information.


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