Scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Leicester found those who did “brief bursts” of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity equivalent to a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women, or a slow jog for post-menopausal women, had better bone health.
Using data from UK Biobank, the researchers found that women who on average did 60-120 seconds of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity per day had 4% better bone health than those who did less than a minute.
“We don’t yet know whether it’s better to accumulate this small amount of exercise in bits throughout each day or all at once, and also whether a slightly longer bout of exercise on one or two days per week is just as good as 1-2 minutes a day,” said lead author Dr Victoria Stiles, of the University of Exeter.
“But there’s a clear link between this kind of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise and better bone health in women.
“Because this is a cross-sectional study – which assesses data taken from a subset of the population at a particular point in time – we can’t be sure whether the high-intensity physical activity led to better bone health, or whether those with better bone health do more of this exercise.
“However, it seems likely that just 1-2 minutes of running a day is good for bone health.”
The researchers looked at data on more than 2,500 women, and compared activity levels (measured by wrist-worn monitors) with bone health (measured by an ultrasound scan of heel bone).
As well as finding 4% better bone health among women who did one to two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise, they found 6% better bone health among those who did more than two minutes a day.
Dr Stiles said data from UK Biobank – taken from monitors worn for a week – was broken down into single seconds to understand how people go about their daily activities.
“We wanted to make every second count in our analysis, because short snippets of high-intensity activity are more beneficial to bone health than longer, continuous periods,” she said.
“We were careful not to ignore short bursts of activity throughout the day.”
As a suggestion for anyone interested in increasing their day-to-day levels of activity, Dr Stiles said: “The UK’s National Osteoporosis Society recommends increasing your walking activity first.
“Further on, we would suggest adding a few running steps to the walk, a bit like you might if you were running to catch a bus.”
Good bone health has multiple health benefits, including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older age.
The paper, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, is entitled: “A small amount of precisely measured high-intensity habitual physical activity predicts bone health in pre- and post-menopausal women in UK Biobank.”
The research was funded by the University of Exeter Project Development Fund (Science).