Running, just a minute, builds better bones

running woman photo

Running is good for you. Beyond the benefits to your cardiovascular system, it helps maintain muscle tone and builds better bones, something that’s especially important to women as they age and become more susceptible to osteoporosis. So how much do you have to run to see some benefits? Would you believe one minute a day?

Scientists at the University of Exeter and the University of Leicester found that those 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.

Using data from UK Biobank, the researchers found that women who on average did 60-120 seconds of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity per day had 4% better bone health than those who did less than a minute.

“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.”

The researchers looked at 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). As well as finding 4% better bone health among women who did one to two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise, they found 6% better bone health among those who did more than two minutes a day.

Running results

Stiles said data from UK Biobank — taken from monitors worn for a week — was broken down into single seconds to understand how people go about their daily activities.

“We wanted to make every second count in our analysis, because short snippets of high-intensity activity are more beneficial to bone health than longer, continuous periods,” she said.  “We were careful not to ignore short bursts of activity throughout the day.”

Stiles noted that because the study looked at a snapshot, a particular point in time, it’s not clear whether running led to better bone health or whether those with better bone health run more. “However, it seems likely that just 1-2 minutes of running a day is good for bone health,” she said.

As a suggestion for anyone interested in increasing their day-to-day levels of activity, 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,” she said.

Good bone health has multiple health benefits, including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older age.

The paper was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

 

About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for ConsumerAffairs.com and FairfaxNews.com.