Media releases

January 14, 2009

Research reveals physical activity key to preventing osteoporosis

A comprehensive review of Australian and International research by Medibank Private has revealed the true extent of the benefits of physical activity in both building bone density and preventing osteoporosis.

The Medibank paper released today examines scientific research and modelling around osteoporosis in women over the past 20 years, highlighting two key areas for focus in delaying the onset of osteoporosis - increasing bone mass prior to 20-30 years of age, and decreasing the rate of bone loss that occurs after the age of 40-50 years. Specifically, the research suggests that having a high bone density as a 20 year old may be the single most important factor in slowing the development of the disease.

"We hear a lot about osteoporosis in older and post-menopausal women because that is generally the age at which the symptoms of osteoporosis are seen. But this review draws attention to the younger years of development and illustrates how physical activity during childhood - and at any age - significantly improves bone strength and assists in preventing osteoporosis," Prof. Katherine McGrath of Medibank Private said.

"This observation of the benefits of physical activity in preventing osteoporosis is important to all Australians. If, through highlighting the role physical activity plays and encouraging weight-bearing exercise we can prevent Australians from developing osteoporosis, they are going to be better off for life.

"Prevention is the key in terms of both quality of life, and the financial impact the disease can have. An estimate by the International Osteoporosis Foundation and Osteoporosis Australia puts the annual treatment costs at $1.9 billion - a huge cost to governments and individuals.

"We also know that amongst our own membership, individuals with osteoporosis stay longer in hospital - an average stay of 14.4 days - compared to those members without osteoporosis, who have an average stay of 5.6 days."

There is consistent evidence from observational studies that weight-bearing exercise during youth contributes to increased bone density and provides the mechanical 'loading' important for the maintenance of bone health and to minimise the rate of bone loss later in life.

"Weight-bearing exercise and resistance training, in contrast to traditional pharmacological and nutritional approaches for improving bone health have the added benefit of influencing multiple risk factors for osteoporosis, including strength, balance and increased muscle mass."

Osteoporosis is a major health concern for older Australians and often goes undiagnosed due to its 'silent' nature. It is estimated that one in every two women and one in every four men over the age of 60 will suffer from a fracture due to osteoporosis.

Research suggests that physical activity such as gymnastics, dancing, walking with hand weights, running and jumping, as well as ball games, increase bone density.

For further information please contact:
Sarah Chibnall
Tel: 03 8622 5181 | Mob: 0423 762 676 | email:

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