Can you maintain bone mineral density if you significantly reduce your calorie intake?

As personal trainers we often get asked questions about health and exercise, particularly how the two can happily co-exist. We get asked all sorts of questions like is regular exercise good for your health in older age? Is rest more important than massage for recuperation? Is caffeine good for you? However, one question that crops up time and again is can you maintain bone mineral density if you significantly reduce your calorie intake in order to lose weight, or should you take regular exercise instead?  Well, fortunately there has been a significant amount of research carried out into the question of whether one weight loss method was superior to the other in terms of lost bone mineral density (BMD), and this is what was discovered.

The researchers observed 48 adult volunteers, with a mean age of 57. The volunteers were randomly assigned for a year to one of three research groups: a calorie- restricted (CR) group, a regular exercise (EX) group and a healthy lifestyle (HL), or control, group. At the end of the study period, each group was measured for changes in hip and spine BMD.

At the end of the year it was found that body weight had decreased similarly in both the CR and EX groups, but interestingly not in the HR group. However, the disadvantage was that the CR group also showed a decrease in BMD in the spine, whereas the EX group didn’t demonstrate any noticeable decrease in bone mineral density in either the hip or spine.
Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers concluded that:

“CR-induced weight loss, but not EX-induced weight loss, is associated with reduction in bone mineral density at clinically important sites of fracture. The data sets suggest that exercise should be an important component of any weight loss program to offset adverse effects of calorie restriction on bone mineral density.”

It shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise when you think about. Regular physical exercise and activity is essential for the maintenance of health and well-being. Personal trainers have been banging that drum for years. Still, it’s nice when research proves that what we’ve been saying all along is factually correct. Regular physical activity is vitally important for preventing future bone loss, especially in middle-aged clients.

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