Although primarily considered a disorder of the elderly, emerging evidence suggests the antecedents of osteoporosis are established during childhood and adolescence. A complex interplay of genetic, environmental, hormonal and behavioral factors determines skeletal development, and a greater effort is needed to identify the most critical factors that establish peak bone strength. Indeed, knowledge of modifiable factors that determine skeletal development may permit optimization of skeletal health during growth and could potentially offset reductions in bone strength with aging. The peripubertal years represent a unique period when the skeleton is particularly responsive to loading exercises, and there is now overwhelming evidence that exercise can optimize skeletal development. While this is not controversial, the most effective exercise prescription and how much investment in this prescription is needed to significantly impact bone health continues to be debated. Despite considerable progress, these issues are not easy to address, and important questions remain unresolved. This review focuses on the key determinants of skeletal development, whether exercise during childhood and adolescence should be advocated as a safe and effective strategy for optimizing peak bone strength, and whether investment in exercise early in life protects against the development of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
Farr is with the Division of Endocrinology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN. Laddu and Going are with the Dept. of Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. Address author correspondence to Joshua N. Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org.