People at risk of getting osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, are usually told to exercise. New research findings suggest this is sage advice — that should be handed out decades earlier.
Researchers at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden analyzed the bone density as well as current and past exercise habits of men at various ages. Among 2,300 18-year-olds, "those who actively did sports, and also those who used to do sports, had greater bone density than those who had never done sports," explained physiotherapist Martin Nilsson, who conducted the research as part of his doctoral thesis, in a statement.
The finding was confirmed among 500 men who were 75 years old, and then broadened to suggest that exercise between the ages of 10 and 30 may be particularly important. Specifically, the men who had participated in competitive sports at least three times a week during these two decades had stronger bones than those who had not. [7 Common Exercise Errors And How to Fix Them]
"The bones respond best when you're young, and if you train and load them with your own bodyweight during these years, it has a stimulating effect on their development," Nilsson said. "This may be important for bone strength much later in life too, so reducing the risk of brittle bones."
It is not clear whether this link between exercise and bone strength at these ages is due solely to this being a critical period for bone development, or whether the type of exercise engaged during this period (competitive sports) is more likely to help bones than exercises common in other periods of life.
Still, exercise, at any time in life, will likely have a beneficial impact on the bones. And the sooner you start the better.