A new study shows that, when it comes to bone health, even a small amount of exercise is better than nothing.
Scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Leicester found that women who did “brief bursts” of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity — equivalent to a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women, or a slow jog for post-menopausal women — had better bone health.
Just one minute of exercise each day can have a measurable effect.
The researchers looked at UK Biobank data on more than 2,500 women, and compared activity levels (measured by wrist-worn monitors) with bone health (measured by an ultrasound scan of heel bone).
They found that women who on average did one to two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity per day had 4% better bone health than those who did less than a minute. There was 6% better bone health among those who did more than two minutes a day.
“We don’t yet know whether it’s better to accumulate this small amount of exercise in bits throughout each day or all at once, and also whether a slightly longer bout of exercise on one or two days per week is just as good as 1-2 minutes a day,” said lead author Dr Victoria Stiles, of the University of Exeter.
“But there’s a clear link between this kind of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise and better bone health in women.
“Because this is a cross-sectional study — which assesses data taken from a subset of the population at a particular point in time — we can’t be sure whether the high-intensity physical activity led to better bone health, or whether those with better bone health do more of this exercise.
“However, it seems likely that just 1-2 minutes of running a day is good for bone health.”
Discussing how people could increase their day-to-day levels of activity, Dr Stiles said: “The UK’s National Osteoporosis Society recommends increasing your walking activity first.
“Further on, we would suggest adding a few running steps to the walk, a bit like you might if you were running to catch a bus.”