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Posted: February 14, 2007

Science of Sport: Impact Sports Increase Bone Strength In Senior Athletes Says University Of Pittsburgh Study

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 14 – 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, M.D., lead author and assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “The findings show that a key to maintaining strong, healthy bones as we age is to engage in impact sports,” added Dr. Wright, who is an orthopaedic surgeon at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

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.

About AAOS (
With more than 29,000 members, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ( ) is the premier not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals, champions the interests of patients and advances the highest quality musculoskeletal health. Orthopaedic surgeons and the Academy are the authoritative sources of information for patients and the general public on musculoskeletal conditions, treatments and related issues. An advocate for improved patient care, the Academy is participating in the Bone and Joint Decade ( ) – the global initiative in the years 2002-2011 – to raise awareness of musculoskeletal health, stimulate research and improve people’s quality of life.

The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, located within the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, employs the region’s largest staff of certified athletic trainers, specialized physical therapists, orthopaedic surgeons and physicians as well leading specialists in nutrition, mental training and sports concussion management. The center’s orthopaedists are part of the UPMC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, currently ranked 12th in the nation by peers in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals annual survey. The comprehensive staff attends to the daily sports medicine needs of athletes at 43 local high schools, eight local colleges, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as professional dancers in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and several other athletic organizations. The center’s staff also treats many recreational and amateur athletes as well as non-athletes who have injuries or conditions related to physical activity.

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