Associations between objectively-measured sedentary behaviour and physical activity with bone mineral density in adults and older adults, the NHANES study

Bone. 2014 Jul;64:254-62. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2014.04.009. Epub 2014 Apr 13.


Background: Lack of physical activity (PA) is an important modifiable risk factor for bone mineral density (BMD). Time spent in sedentary behaviour (SB), or time spent in non-exercising seated and reclining postures, has recently emerged as a new public health risk, independent of the amount of time someone spends being active. As national surveys report that adults spend on average 8h per day being sedentary, rising to 10h a day in older age, it has been hypothesised that a repeated exposure to sitting in modern daily life, whether it is for travelling, working or leisure, might have a deleterious effect on bone health in a way that mirrors the results of studies into the effect of lengthy periods of bed-rest. The aim of this study was to investigate for the first time a) how time spent in SB is associated with bone mineral density (BMD), b) whether this association changes depending on the amount of time spent engaging in different intensity levels of PA, and c) if the pattern of accumulation of SB and long uninterrupted periods of SB are associated with BMD.

Methods: The 2005/2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), is a cross-sectional study of a representative sample of the US population that is conducted biannually by the National Centers for Disease Control. PA and SB were assessed objectively over 7 days using an Actigraph accelerometer and BMD was measured via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. In this study, data are presented on four regions of the femur (femoral neck, trochanter, inter trochanter and total femur) and total spine (L1-L4). The associations between BMD, SB and PA levels were examined using multiple linear regressions stratified by gender. In addition, the association between the pattern of accumulation of SB (quantified as frequency and duration of SB) and BMD was also investigated. All models were adjusted for known risk factors associated with BMD. In total, data for 2117 individuals, aged 23-90+years (males N=1158), were available to analyse SB and femur BMD and 1942 individuals (males N=1053) for analysis of SB and spine BMD.

Results: There was no evidence of an association between SB time and hip or spinal BMD in men. For men, time spent doing moderate to vigorous activity (MVPA) and vigorous activity (VIG) was associated with higher total femur and the other hip sub-region BMD. The regression coefficient was BMVPA=0.306 (95% CI: 0.021-0.591)g/cm2 for each 10 minute increment in daily MVPA. For VIG, the regression coefficient is BVIG=0.320 (95% CI: 0.058-0.583) but this cannot be interpreted linearly as time spent in vigorous activity was square root transformed. In women, SB was negatively associated with total femur BMD and all sub-regions but not MVPA nor VIG. The regression coefficient for total femur BMD was BSB = -0.159 (95% CI: -0.241-0.076)g/cm2 for each 10 minute increment spent being sedentary each day. In addition, the duration of SB bouts was deleteriously associated with BMD for the total femur and of other hip sub-regions, but the number of bouts of SB did not have a significant effect. These associations were found to be independent of the amount of MVPA and VIG that women engage in. No associations were found between SB or PA and spinal BMD for either men or women.

Conclusions: These results provide the first evidence that repeated exposure to sitting (SB), measured objectively in daily life, is deleteriously associated with BMD of the total femur and of all hip sub-regions in women, independent of the amount of time women engage in moderate and vigorous activity. This suggests that SB might be a risk factor for bone health in women independent of whether they engage in physical activity. In addition, the duration of SB bouts, rather than their frequency, appears to be deleteriously associated with BMD of the total femur and of all hip sub-regions. Future research should investigate the effect on bone health of interventions which set out to reduce SB and the duration of SB bouts in comparison, and as adjunct, to the promotion of PA. For men, SB is not significantly associated with BMD of the femur or spine and the results appear to confirm that moderate and vigorous activity has a protective effect.

Keywords: Accelerometry; Bone mineral density; Osteoporosis; Physical activity; Sedentary behaviour.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bone Density*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Sedentary Behavior*