Bone Maintenance in Older Runners

Bone Maintenance in Older Runners

Bone density can be maintained by running in older active men. That is the main conclusion of a US research team who followed a group of 54 male master (veteran) athletes ranging in age from 40 to 80 over a period of 5-7 years. The subjects had already been recruited to a 20-year longitudinal study which began in 1986. The purpose of the authors of the current study was to relate changes in training volume (miles run per week and days per week of exercise) and VO2 peak to changes in whole body, spine and hip bone mineral density (BMD) over a 4-5 year period. All the subjects were actively training and competing in their respective athletic events at the time of baseline assessment of body composition, fitness and bone mineral density (as measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry). The measurements were repeated 4-5 years later and the results compared in the light of subjects’ self-reported training and performance data.

Analysis of these data showed the runners decreasing both mileage and the number of days per week they trained with age, accompanied by a significant decline in 5k and 10k times – although not in marathon times. Predictably, in the light of the decline in training, the subjects significantly increased body weight (1.4%), body fat (1%) and body mass index (2.6%), with significant decreases in VO2 peak. Between the two sets of tests, whole body BMD and bone mineral content (BMC) declined slightly but not significantly. Over the same period, however, a significant increase in spine BMC and BMD and an increase in hip BMC occurred. ‘The fact that the spine and hip BMD are maintained while the (whole body) BMD declines suggests a site-specific influence of distance running,’ conclude the authors. ‘These data suggest that BMD can be maintained as a result of continuous training in male runners. They also suggest that changes in training patterns (either increases or decreases in days per week of training or miles per week of running) have little influence on the ability to maintain skeletal mass.’

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2002 Apr 57(4) M203-8

Isabel Walker

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