Can physical activity help tackle osteoporosis?

Researchers at UEA are exploring the link between leading a sedentary lifestyle and developing osteoporosis.

Researchers at the Norwich Medical School will be looking at whether the loss of bone density is directly related to extended periods of sitting, and whether encouraging less sedentary behaviour could improve bone health as we age.

The study is led by the University of Strathclyde, and it also involves Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Birmingham, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

The team hope that their findings will improve future health policy regarding the promotion of physical activity in day-to-day life.

Much of the upcoming research will focus on bone biomarkers which show biochemical changes in the bone depending on activity levels. There will be particular focus on bone turnover, which is how quickly bone is broken down and formed. Researchers will also investigate whether vitamin D deficiency contributes to faster bone loss.

Professor Bill Fraser of Medicine at UEA’s Medical School said, ‘We know that a sedentary lifestyle is not good for us, but we don’t yet know exactly how it causes bone loss and subsequent osteoporosis.

‘This project will look at whether extended periods of sitting in a controlled laboratory setting affects the bone metabolism of older adults. It will also look at the effects of breaking periods of sitting with standing, and whether this could be better for us.’

Researchers will use state-of-the-art technology to perform biomarker analysis on existing blood samples and data collected from participants who have taken part in a previous sedentary behaviour study at the university. They aim to detect important changes which occur early in the bone-building cycle.

It is already known that some extreme lifestyle conditions such as being bed-bound can cause increased loss of bone density. However, what isn’t known is whether long periods of immobility have a similar effect on bone health.

If the findings identify a significant negative effect of sedentary behaviour on bone metabolism, preventative behaviours such as taking frequent breaks from work could prove a simple and effective way to prevent osteoporosis in later life.

The research is being funded by the Royal Osteoporosis Society, previously the National Osteoporosis Society.

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August 2022
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