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30-06-2011 | Bone health | Article

Exercise in youth has long-term benefits on bone health


Free abstract

MedWire News: Postmenopausal women who competed in sports at the an elite level during their youth have higher bone mineral density (BMD), bone mineral content (BMC), and muscle mass than sedentary controls of similar age, study findings indicate.

"Although researchers have examined the impact of strenuous physical training on BMD in young women athletes, there is less information regarding BMD in highly trained older women athletes," observe Andrea Andreoli (University of Rome 'Tor Vergata', Italy) and colleagues.

To address this, the researchers used dual energy X-ray absorptiometry to determine BMD, BMC and body composition (lean and fat mass), in a group of postmenopausal women aged 54-73 years.

The study included 24 ex-elite athletes with long-term (>20 years) histories of significant training and performance. The women were divided into two groups: those who did weight-bearing sports (runners, n=12) and those who did non-weight-bearing sports (swimmers, n=12). A group of 24 age-matched non-athletic women served as a control group.

Andreoli and team report, in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that there were no significant differences in age, weight, height, body mass index, and menopausal status among the groups.

All athletes continued to participate in the same sport activity as when they were young, but there were no statistically significant differences in activity levels between athletes and controls at the time of the study, at approximately 5 hours versus 3 hours per week.

In spite of this, the runners had significantly higher BMD than controls at the chest and lumbar spine (0.795 vs 0.694 g/cm2 and 1.162 vs 0.938 g/cm2, respectively).

BMD at the left and right legs was significantly higher in both runners and swimmers versus controls. In addition, runners had higher leg BMD than swimmers, whereas swimmers had leaner arms than runners.

The controls had lower lean mass and higher fat mass than the runners and swimmers (37.9 vs 42.8 and 46.1 kg, respectively, and 23.4 vs 15.6 and 19.8 kg, respectively), and the athletes had significantly higher BMC at the trunk and legs than controls.

"The high level of physical activity observed in female athletes is associated with improved muscle mass, BMD and BMC, and physical activity during youth seems to have a beneficial effect on bone mass and helps to prevent bone loss due to aging," Andreoli et al conclude.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Laura Dean

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