Gymnasts' bone mineral characteristics are generally not known before starting their sport. Prepubertal females who enrolled in beginning artistic gymnastics (n = 65) had lower bone mineral than controls (n = 78). However, 2 years of gymnastics participation versus no participation led to a significantly greater accrual of forearm bone area and lumbar spine areal BMD.
Introduction: The skeletal response to exercise in children compared with adults is heightened because of the high bone turnover rate and the ability of bone to change its size and shape. Whereas child gymnasts generally have greater rates of bone mineral accrual compared with nongymnasts, it is unknown if some of these skeletal advantages are present before the onset of training or are caused entirely by training.
Materials and Methods: Changes in bone area (BA; cm2), BMC (g), and areal BMD (aBMD; g/cm2) over 24 months were examined in prepubertal females, 4–8 years of age, who selected to perform recreational gymnastics (GYM; n = 65), nongymnastic activities, or no organized activity (CON; n = 78). Participants had essentially no lifetime history of organized athletic participation (<12 weeks). Pubertal maturation was assessed annually by a physician. Total body, lumbar spine, total proximal femur, and forearm BA, BMC, and aBMD were measured every 6 months using DXA (Hologic QDR-1000W). Independent samples t-tests determined baseline group differences. Nonlinear mixed effects models were used to model 24-month changes in bone data. In subset analyses, high-level gymnasts advancing to competition (HLG; n = 9) were compared with low-level nonadvancing gymnasts (LLG; n = 56).
Results: At baseline, GYM were shorter, lighter, and had lower BA, BMC, and aBMD compared with CON (p < 0.05), whereas HLG did not differ significantly in these measurements compared with LLG (p > 0.05). Controlling for differences in race, baseline measures of body mass, height, and calcium intake, and change in breast development beyond stage II at 24 months, GYM had greater long-term (asymptotic) mean responses for total body aBMD and forearm BMC (p < 0.04) and greater rates of increase in the mean responses of lumbar spine aBMD and forearm BA compared with CON over 24 months. Over time, forearm BA increased to a greater extent in HLG compared with LLG (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: Females participating in recreational gymnastics initiated during childhood have enhanced bone mineral gains at the total body, lumbar spine, and forearm over 24 months. Higher-level training promotes additional gains in forearm BA.