• DXA;
  • accelerometer;
  • bone size;
  • fat mass


We examined the influence of habitual levels of physical activity on bone mass in childhood by studying the relationship between accelerometer recordings and DXA parameters in 4457 11-year-old children. Physical activity was positively related to both BMD and bone size in fully adjusted models. However, further exploration revealed that this effect on bone size was modified by fat mass.

Introduction: Exercise interventions have been reported to increase bone mass in children, but it is unclear whether levels of habitual physical activity also influence skeletal development.

Materials and Methods: We used multivariable linear regression to analyze associations between amount of moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA), derived from accelerometer recordings for a minimum of 3 days, and parameters obtained from total body DXA scans in 4457 11-year-old boys and girls from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The influence of different activity intensities was also studied by stratification based on lower and higher accelerometer cut-points for moderate (3600 counts/minute) and vigorous (6200 counts/minute) activity, respectively.

Results: MVPA was positively associated with lower limb BMD and BMC adjusted for bone area (aBMC; p < 0.001, adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic factors, and height, with or without additional adjustment for lean and fat mass). MVPA was inversely related to lower limb bone area after adjusting for height and lean mass (p = 0.01), whereas a positive association was observed when fat mass was also adjusted for (p < 0.001). Lower limb BMC was positively related to MVPA after adjusting for height and lean and fat mass (p < 0.001), whereas little relationship was observed after adjusting for height and lean mass alone (p = 0.1). On multivariable regression analysis using the fully adjusted model, moderate activity exerted a stronger influence on lower limb BMC compared with light activity (light activity: 2.9 [1.2–4.7, p = 0.001]; moderate activity: 13.1 [10.6–15.5, p < 0.001]; regression coefficients with 95% confidence intervals and p values).

Conclusions: Habitual levels of physical activity in 11-year-old children are related to bone size and BMD, with moderate activity exerting the strongest influence. The effect on bone size (as reflected by DXA-based measures of bone area) was modified by adjustment for fat mass, such that decreased fat mass, which is associated with higher levels of physical activity, acts to reduce bone size and thereby counteract the tendency for physical activity to increase bone mass.