Specific Bone Mass Acquisition in Elite Female Athletes

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Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated that physical activity can improve bone mass acquisition. However, this design is not adequate to describe the specific kinetics of bone mass gain during pubertal development.


To compare the kinetics of bone mass acquisition in female adolescent athletes of sports that impose different mechanical loads and untrained controls throughout puberty.

Study Participants:

A total of 72 girls with ages ranging from 10.8 to 18.0 years were recruited: 24 rhythmic gymnasts (RG, impact activity group), 24 swimmers (SW, no-impact activity), and 24 age-matched controls (CON).

Main Outcome Measures:

Areal bone mineral density (aBMD) was determined using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and bone turnover markers were analyzed. All the investigations were performed at baseline and after 1 year.


At baseline and after 1 year of follow-up, RG presented significantly greater aBMD adjusted for age, fat-free soft tissue, and fat mass compared with CON and SW, only at the femoral region. When aBMD variation throughout the pubertal period was modeled for each group from individual values, the aBMD at the femoral region was significantly higher in RG compared with the other 2 groups from 12.5 to 14 years, and this difference lasted up to 18 years. Moreover, the mean annual aBMD gain tended to be higher in RG compared with SW and CON only at the femoral region and this gain lasted longer in RG. Bone remodeling markers decreased similarly with age in the 3 groups.


This study, which was based on linear mixed models for longitudinal data, demonstrated that the osteogenic effect of gymnastics is characterized by greater bone mass gain localized at mechanically loaded bone (ie, the proximal femur) principally around the menarcheal period. Moreover, the bone mass gain lasts longer in gymnasts, which may be explained by the delay in sexual maturation.

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