The effect of physical activity and its interaction with nutrition on bone health

Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Nov;62(4):829-38. doi: 10.1079/PNS2003304.


Physical activity (PA) is a popular therapy for the prevention and treatment of bone loss and osteoporosis because it has no adverse side effects, it is low cost, and it confers additional benefits such as postural stability and fall prevention. Bone mass is regulated by mechanical loading, and is limited but not controlled by diet. The mechanism by which strain thresholds turn bone remodelling 'on' and 'off' is known as the mechanostat theory. Research in animals has shown that optimal strains are dynamic, with a high change rate, an unusual distribution and a high magnitude of strain, but the results of randomized controlled trials in human subjects have been somewhat equivocal. In the absence of weight-bearing activity nutritional or endocrine interventions cannot maintain bone mass. Biochemical markers of bone turnover predict bone mass changes, and findings from our research group and others have shown that both acute and chronic exercise can reduce bone resorption. Similarly, Ca intervention studies have shown that supplementation can reduce bone resorption. Several recent meta-analytical reviews concur that changes in bone mass with exercise are typically 2-3%. Some of these studies suggest that Ca intake may influence the impact of PA on bone, with greater effects in Ca-replete subjects. Comparative studies between Asian (high PA, low Ca intake) and US populations (low PA, high Ca intake) suggest that PA may permit an adaptation to low Ca intakes. Whether Ca and PA interact synergistically is one of the most important questions unanswered in the area of lifestyle-related bone health research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Development / drug effects
  • Bone Development / physiology
  • Bone Resorption / drug therapy
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / physiology
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Calcium, Dietary / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control*
  • Weight Lifting


  • Calcium, Dietary