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STUDY OBJECTIVE--To test the hypothesis that physical inactivity is an independent risk factor for hip fracture in the elderly. DESIGN--Population based, case-control study. SETTING--Metropolitan borough of Newcastle upon Tyne. PARTICIPANT--A total of 197 patients aged 50 years and over, resident in Newcastle, and admitted consecutively with a hip fracture, and 382 community controls, matched by age and sex, who had not suffered a hip fracture. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS--Validated methods were used to assess customary physical activity. Information on body build, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption was also obtained. Grip strength was measured. Physical inactivity was strongly associated with the risk of hip fracture in men and women. Subjects who did not regularly weight-bear, perform muscle-loading activities such as climbing stairs, and perform productive activities such as gardening, were all more than twice as likely to sustain a hip fracture, when compared with subjects at the higher end of the activity spectrum. These increases in risk remained after adjusting for body mass index, smoking, alcohol consumption, and dependence in daily living activities. CONCLUSIONS--Customary physical inactivity is an independent determinant of hip fracture in the elderly. Strategies to improve the day to day activity of elderly people require urgent exploration.