Previous research suggests that physical activity may have a beneficial effect on bone mineral density (BMD) in women. This relationship was explored in a 2-year, randomized, intervention trial investigating the efficacy of exercise and calcium supplementation on increasing peak bone mass in young women. One hundred and twenty-seven subjects (ages of 20-35 years) were randomly assigned either to an exercise program that contained both aerobics and weight training components or to a stretching program. Calcium supplementation (up to 1500 mg/day including dietary intake) or placebo was given in a double-blinded design to all subjects. Spinal trabecular BMD was determined using quantitative computed tomography (QCT). Spinal integral, femoral neck, and trochanteric BMD were measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and calcaneal BMD by single photon absorptiometry (SPA). Fitness variables included maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max), and isokinetic muscle performance of the trunk and thigh. Measurements were made at baseline, 1 year, and 2 years. Sixty-three subjects (32 exercise, 31 stretching) completed the study, and all the measured bone parameters indicated a positive influence of the exercise intervention. There were significant positive differences in BMD between the exercise and stretching groups for spinal trabecular (2.5%), femoral neck (2.4%), femoral trochanteric (2.3%), and calcaneal (6.4%) measurements. The exercise group demonstrated a significant gain in BMD for spinal integral (1.3 +/- 2.8%, p < 0.02), femoral trochanteric (2.6 +/- 6.1%, p < 0.05), and calcaneal (5.6 +/- 5.1, p < 0.01) measurements. In contrast to exercise, the calcium intervention had no positive effect on any of the bone parameters. In regard to fitness parameters, the exercise group completed the study with significant gains in VO2max and isokinetic (peak torque) values for the knee flexion and extension and trunk extension. This study indicates that over a 2-year period, a combined regimen of aerobics and weight training has beneficial effects on BMD and fitness parameters in young women. However, the addition of daily calcium supplementation does not add significant benefit to the intervention.