Stronger Bones in Ex-Elite Masters Athletes


It’s long been known that athletes that weight bear have greater bone density than non-athletes. It’s even been found in masters athletes that bone density is stronger in masters runners compared to veteran cyclists of the same age. Recently, it’s even been shown that the bone density of the jumping leg is greater that of the trail leg in masters long and triple jumpers. Here is some research that shows that long term involvement in sport helps even more to maintain bone density in female masters athletes.

The Research

48 post-menopausal women (54-73 years of age) were involved in the study. Ex-elite athletes with long-term (>20 years) histories of significant training and performance were divided into two groups: weight-bearing sports (runners, n=12) and non-weight-bearing sports (swimmers, n=12). The athletes were age-matched with non-active controls (n=24). Bone density and muscle mass were measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Healthcare and sport activity histories were evaluated using a questionnaire.

The Results

No significant differences were found with regard to body weight, height, body mass index and hours of activity between the two groups of athletes. While bone density was not significantly different between athletes; they were significantly higher in athletes than in non-active controls. Although the ex-athletes did not significantly differ in muscle mass, the left and right lean arm mass and arm bone density were significantly higher in swimmers than in runners.

So What?

The researchers concluded that high level of physical activity observed in older female athletes is associated with improved muscle mass and bone density, and physical activity during youth seems to have a beneficial effect on bone mass and helps to prevent bone loss due to aging. yet another reason to keep exercising into older age I say! For more specific advice on the female masters athlete (including scientifically-based tips on managing training and the menstrual cycle, menopause and training, hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy and exercise, menstrual cramping, PMT, and the unique nutritional needs of female masters athletes), see Chapter 19 of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Andreoli, A. (2012). Long-term effect of exercise on bone mineral density and body composition in post-menopausal ex-elite athletes: a retrospective study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(1): 69-74.