Higher premenarcheal bone mass in elite gymnasts is maintained into young adulthood after long-term retirement from sport: A 14-year follow-up



Sports that impact-load the skeleton during childhood and adolescence increase determinants of bone strength such as bone mineral content and density; however, it is unclear if this benefit is maintained after retirement from the sport. The purpose of this study was to assess whether the previously reported higher bone mass in a group of premenarcheal gymnasts was still apparent 10 years after the cessation of participation and withdrawal of the gymnastics loading stimulus. In 1995, 30 gymnasts 8 to 15 years of age were measured and compared with 30 age-matched nongymnasts. Twenty-five former gymnasts and 22 nongymnasts were measured again 14 years later (2009 to 2010). Gymnasts had been retired from gymnastics training and competition for an average of 10 years. Total body (TB), lumbar spine (LS), and femoral neck (FN) bone mineral content (BMC) was assessed at both measurement occasions by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was used to compare former gymnasts' and nongymnasts' BMC while controlling for differences in body size and maturation (covariates: age, height, weight, and years from menarche [1995] or age at menarche [2009 to 2010]). Premenarcheal gymnasts (measured in 1995) had significantly greater size-adjusted TB, LS, and FN BMC (p < 0.05) (15%, 17%, and 12%, respectively) than nongymnasts. Ten years after retirement, gymnasts had maintained similar size-adjusted TB, LS, and FN BMC differences (p < 0.05) (13%, 19%, and 13%, respectively) when compared with nongymnasts. Bone mass benefits in premenarcheal gymnasts were still apparent even after long-term (10 years) removal of the gymnastics loading stimulus. © 2012 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research