Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Exercise and Physical Health: Musculoskeletal Health and Functional Capabilities

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Exercise and Physical Health: Musculoskeletal Health and Functional Capabilities

Article excerpt

The health-enhancing potential of physical activity has gained increasing scientific support and its promotion as a public health measure has been urged in several statements and programs. The potential of physical activity for this purpose depends on its effectiveness to produce expected benefits and on the feasibility and safety of the effective activity. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the current scientific knowledge of the effectiveness of physical activity, especially of leisure-time exercise, on musculoskeletal health and functional capabilities from a public health perspective. Thus, the emphasis is on the effects of leisure-time exercise and daily physical activities. In addition, the role of physical activity as a secondary preventive measure to decrease deleterious consequences of musculoskeletal diseases deserves consideration.

Musculoskeletal health includes positive dimensions of health-related fitness as well as negative dimensions, such as functional disorders and degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal system. Health-related musculoskeletal fitness includes the following components (according to Bouchard, Shephard, & Stephens, 1994): (a) muscles - mass, strength, power, and endurance; (b) bones - bone mineral density (BMD; in grams per square centimeters; accounts for about 80% of bone strength in normal populations) and also other determinants of bone strength (e.g., bone mineral content [BMC; in grams], geometry, and internal architecture) would be valid parameters; (c) joints - range of motion or flexibility; and (d) integrated functions (including motor components) - coordination, balance, speed of movement, and agility.

Musculoskeletal Health-Related Fitness

Muscle mass, strength, power, and endurance are all important for both functional abilities and for the prevention of several diseases and injuries. Because of the large reserve capacity of these components, their significance is best observed in older individuals. Thus, in older people, muscle power, strength, and functional ability in daily activities are closely related (Avlund, Schroll, Davidsen, Lovborg, & Rantanen, 1994; Bassey, Bendall, & Person, 1988; Bassey et al., 1992). Sufficient muscle strength is important even for working-aged individuals, as indicated by the significant correlation between muscle strength and a work ability index in middle-aged workers (Nygard, Eskelinen, Suvanto, Tuomi, & Ilmarinen, 1991). Several threshold values for muscle strength have been suggested, but no generally accepted standards are available so far (Young & Skelton, 1994).

All components of musculoskeletal fitness show substantial decreases with age (Cartee, 1994). However, the decline of muscular mass, strength, power, and endurance with age does not seem to be solely caused by aging. Part of the age-related loss in these characteristics may be due to declining levels of habitual physical activity (Bassey & Harries, 1993), and physically active or athletic older individuals show superior results in strength tests as compared to sedentary individuals (Bassey et al., 1988; Era, Lyyra, Viitasalo, & Heikkinen, 1992). For older people, leisure-time exercise and domestic activities are important to maintain muscle strength (Rantanen, Era, Kauppinen, & Heikkinen, 1994).

The substantial increase in muscle strength and mass as a result of high-intensity strength training in young individuals is well known. Recent studies have shown that even old and very old individuals can increase their strength substantially by intensive and safe, but feasible, training programs (e.g., Fiatarone et al., 1994). It is worthwhile to emphasize that the improvements in muscle strength in old or very old people have been shown to be accompanied by better coordination, better balance, shorter reaction time, increased gait speed, and increased flexibility, all of which are important elements or indicators of mobility (e. …

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