"This study provides strong evidence that even without hormone replacement therapy, a specific exercise program can reduce the risk of vertebral fractures in elderly women and that this benefit lasts several years," says Mehrsheed Sinaki, M.D., a Mayo Clinic physical medicine specialist and the lead author of the study. "Back extension exercises significantly reduced bone loss and reduced vertebral compression fractures."
Osteoporosis affects eight million American women, and two million men, causing one and a half million fractures each year. As many as 18 million more Americans may have low bone density, a precursor to osteoporosis. The study involved 50 healthy postmenopausal women, ages 58-75. Twenty-seven had performed back-strengthening exercises for two years, while the other 23 served as the control group. While there was no difference in bone mineral density between the two groups at the end of the two-year exercise period, members of the control group were 2.7 times more likely to have vertebral compression fractures at the end of 10 years. The exercise group retained a significant advantage in back strength, even eight years after the exercise program ended, and its members had lost less bone density than those in the control group.
"Exercise requires more effort than taking a pill, so getting patients to comply with an exercise program is more difficult," says Dr. Sinaki. "However, because the benefits of exercise continue even after the program is completed, perhaps this should lead us to consider more short-term, intensive exercise programs that will be easier to maintain. This study provides good evidence that we should investigate such an approach, both as an alternative treatment for those patients who are not able to tolerate hormone replacement or drug therapies and as a supplement to those therapies."