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High Impact Activities May Greatly Improve Bone Health in Older Athletes

1st on the web (November 25, 2009)

A study of 560 mature athletes who participated in high-impact sports during the 2005 National Senior Games or Senior Olympics, held in Pittsburgh, Pa., found participation in those sports to be a significant predictor of improved bone mineral density scores after competition.

In the cross-sectional study, investigators from Pittsburgh evaluated athletes whose average age was 65.9 years old (range 50 to 93 years), to determine if participation in high-impact activities would predict bone mineral density (BMD) in this population.

“My colleagues and I were surprised to see that active adult participation in the high-impact sports had such a positive influence on bone health, even in the most oldest athletes,” investigator Vonda Wright, MD, stated in a press release from Sports Health, which published the study.

She is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Wright and colleagues found that compared to other same-aged athletes who participated in lower-impact sports at the Games, those who participated in high-impact sports like basketball, and track and field events had higher average quantitative T scores — a scoring system that determines how a person’s bone mass compares to the average bone mass of a healthy adult.

After competition, researchers found the calcaneal quantitative ultrasounds of the dominant foot revealed average quantitative T scores of 0.4 ± 1.3 in the high-impact group and -0.1 ± 1.4 in the low-impact group, according to the study.

When they controlled for such factors as age, sex, obesity and use of osteoporosis medications, they found that participation in high-impact sports significantly predicted BMD in this population, according to the study’s abstract.

“Our study represents the largest sample of BMD data in mature athletes to date,” Wright noted in the release.

Not all mature individuals are suited to participate in high-impact sports. But for those who are, “this study suggests that high-impact sports can play a significant part in healthy bone aging. With a multi-part approach and the appropriate use of high-impact exercises, individuals may be able to make greater strides against bone loss than the current treatment strategies imply,” she stated.

Investigators noted in their study that its clinical relevance is the new emphasis it places on high-impact exercise as a possible tool for helping active, aging adults maintain healthy bone BMD.


Leigey D, Irrgang J, Francis K, et al. Participation in high-impact sports predicts bone mineral density in senior Olympic athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2009; 1: 508-513.