High-Impact Sports May Lead to Stronger Bones, Pitt Study Finds

Issue Date: 
February 19, 2007

Participating in running, basketball, and other high-impact sports may lead to stronger bones as people age, according to a research study led by Vonda Wright, an assistant professor in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

Measurements conducted on Senior Olympic athletes found that the bone mineral density (BMD) among those who participated in impact sports was significantly greater than in 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 Wright, who also is an orthopaedic surgeon in the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. “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.

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,” Wright said. “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 older than 65 will sustain bone fractures because of osteoporosis.

The Pitt research results were presented Feb. 14 during the 74th annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.