It is well known the regular physical activity among aging adults can maintain bone health and decrease the risk of fractures. A new study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day suggests that physical activity and exercise early in life might be equally important.

Bjorn Rosengren, MD, PhD and other researchers performed a controlled exercise intervention among children age 7-9 years in Malmo, Sweden. The intervention group comprised of 362 girls and 446 boys who received 40 minutes of daily physical education at school. The control group consisted of 780 girls and 807 boys received 60 minutes of physical education per week. The authors collected data on fractures among all participants and assessed skeletal maturity each year.

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Exercise early in life can prevent fractures as you age.

During the study, there were 72 fractures in the daily exercise group and 143 in the control group. The participants in the exercise group also exhibited higher spine bone mass density than those in the control group.

“Increased activity in the younger ages helped induce higher bone mass and improve skeletal size in girls without increasing the fracture risk. Our study highlights yet another reason why kids need to get regular daily exercise to improve their health both now and in the future,” concluded Rosengren.

This study offers several important messages. First, all of us need to exercise. Even as we get older, we need to take long walks or go for jogs several times a week. Or we can swim, bike, lift weights, or play sports. While bone loss can occur with age, regular exercise can slow its loss. People with healthy bones likely suffer fewer fractures.

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A large amount of bone formation occurs in the first two decades of life. As the study demonstrates, activity at these ages can lead to stronger bones that persist later in life. Sports and exercise as kids can lead to better bone health as adults.

Adults should be exercising regularly for themselves. We can also help our children by getting outside and playing with them. And we can encourage them to play sports and do all sorts of other physical activities. That exercise early in life could improve their health and quality-of-life as they age.

Note: This post appears in a modified form as an article I wrote for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine as a contribution to the Be Active Your Way blog of the Department of Health and Human Services.