When we picture physical benefits of exercise, it is easy to think of building muscle and losing fat, depending on our own personal motivations. These are easy to focus on because the progress can be visual. We watch the sinews become prominent, feel our calf muscles develop, and notice our hamstrings and quadriceps take shape. We see the change in our figures, feel our clothes fit differently, and watch our scale values drop.
But, less noticeable is the impact on bone health. Our bones respond to certain exercises in the same way as muscles—doing them makes them stronger. And stronger is good because it can diminish the risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease where bones become less dense and fragile, prone to fracture.
Although women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, both sexes can suffer from the disease. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 2 million men in the United States have osteoporosis.
A study performed by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia looked at bone mineral density and osteopenia, a condition where the bone mass reduction is not as severe as that in osteoporosis, in men. The results suggest that weight-bearing activities, such as running, dancing and jump-roping, are important for healthy bones.
In the study (to be published in a forth-coming issue of Metabolism), researchers measured the bone mineral density of 43 competitive male road cyclists and runners ages 20 to 59. The cyclists had significantly lower bone mineral density of the whole body than the runners. Cyclists were also seven times more likely to have osteopenia of the spine than runners, and 63 percent of the cyclists had osteopenia of the spine or hip compared to 19 percent of the runners.
Pamela Hinton, one of the study’s co-authors and an associate professor of nutritional sciences in Missouri University’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, believes these results “will ultimately serve as education and motivation.”
So men, it looks like for the sake of healthy bones, you best keep on running.