Does Physical Activity in Adolescence Have Site-Specific and Sex-Specific Benefits on Young Adult Bone Size, Content, and Estimated Strength?

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Abstract

The long-term benefits of habitual physical activity during adolescence on adult bone structure and strength are poorly understood. We investigated whether physically active adolescents had greater bone size, density, content, and estimated bone strength in young adulthood when compared to their peers who were inactive during adolescence. Peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) was used to measure the tibia and radius of 122 (73 females) participants (age mean ± SD, 29.3 ± 2.3 years) of the Saskatchewan Pediatric Bone Mineral Accrual Study (PBMAS). Total bone area (ToA), cortical density (CoD), cortical area (CoA), cortical content (CoC), and estimated bone strength in torsion (SSIp) and muscle area (MuA) were measured at the diaphyses (66% tibia and 65% radius). Total density (ToD), trabecular density (TrD), trabecular content (TrC), and estimated bone strength in compression (BSIc) were measured at the distal ends (4%). Participants were grouped by their adolescent physical activity (PA) levels (inactive, average, and active) based on mean PA Z-scores obtained from serial questionnaire assessments completed during adolescence. We compared adult bone outcomes across adolescent PA groups in each sex using analysis of covariance followed by post hoc pairwise comparisons with Bonferroni adjustments. When adjusted for adult height, MuA, and PA, adult males who were more physically active than their peers in adolescence had 13% greater adjusted torsional bone strength (SSIp, p < 0.05) and 10% greater adjusted ToA (p < 0.05) at the tibia diaphysis. Females who were more active in adolescence had 10% larger adjusted CoA (p < 0.05), 12% greater adjusted CoC (p < 0.05) at the tibia diaphysis, and 3% greater adjusted TrC (p < 0.05) at the distal tibia when compared to their inactive peers. Benefits to tibia bone size, content, and strength in those who were more active during adolescence seemed to persist into young adulthood, with greater ToA and SSIp in males, and greater CoA, CoC, and TrC in females. © 2014 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

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