Heart Health Articles

Impact Sports Increase Bone Strength In Senior Athletes

April 07, 2017

Running, basketball and other high-impact sports may lead to stronger bones as people age, according to a new study presented today at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Measurements conducted on senior Olympic athletes found that the bone mineral density (BMD) for those who participated in impact sports was significantly greater than athletes who competed in low-impact sports like swimming and cycling.

"While we know that exercise is vital as we get older, this study finds that the kind of exercise we choose can be just as important," said Vonda Wright, MD, lead author and assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "The findings show that a key to maintaining strong, healthy bones as we age is to engage in impact sports."

The study evaluated 298 athletes competing in the 2005 Senior Olympic Games in Pittsburgh. The athletes, ages 50 to 93, completed a health-history questionnaire and underwent ultrasound to measure BMD. The BMD T-score for athletes in the high-impact group was .4+/-1.3 versus -1+/-1.4 for athletes in the non-high impact group. After controlling for age, sex, obesity and osteoporosis medication, participation in high-impact sports was found to be a significant predictor of BMD.

"The costs associated with caring for people with osteoporosis and fractures caused by frail bones are rising as the population ages," Dr. Wright concluded. "Our study implies that persistent participation in impact sports can positively influence bone health even in the oldest athletes."

Osteoporosis is a disease of progressive bone loss affecting 28 million Americans and contributing to an estimated 1.5 million bone fractures per year. One in two women and one in five men over age 65 will sustain bone fractures due to osteoporosis.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons