Older people who keep regularly moving are more likely to have better bone health than those who carry out just one bout of high-intensity exercise a day, according to new research at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, looked into the impact of older people’s physical behaviour and daily activities on their bone health.

It found that it is better for elderly people to limit their sitting time by getting up to do something as simple as make a cup of tea several times a day – rather than carry out a single short bout of intensive weight-bearing activity.

Dr Gladys Pearson, Deputy Director of the Musculoskeletal Science and Sports Medicine Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Research suggests that sitting for long periods of time reverses the effect of exercise.

“The government recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week, but we now realise that if the rest of your day is spent in a sedentary state then this will have limited benefits and could cause issues for bone health of the elderly.

“Elderly people who get up often throughout the day, whether just to make a cup of tea, walk up the stairs, or take a short walk, are more likely to have better bone health than those that spend a lot of time sitting, regardless if they have been to a gym class that day.”

After leaving a monitoring device on the leg of 112 elderly people – measuring all movements, the intensity of movements and sitting and sleeping behaviour – results showed that males who got up from their chair more throughout the day tended to have a higher bone mineral density than those who sat a lot. Moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening, was also seen to be beneficial to men’s bone health.

In women, a slight difference was seen compared to men, in terms of what is the optimal pattern of physical behaviour – light-intensity workouts such as casual walking, doing household chores or activities of daily living, were more beneficial for their bone health than moderate-intensity exercise.

Both benefited from sitting less and moving more.

Dr Pearson added: “This research is a real positive for people over 60 years old. It just shows that if you are not a ‘gym bunny’, you can still maintain good bone health through light-intensity exercise – the key message is just to not sit down for so long in a day.

“We hope that this encourages older people to get up more.”


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