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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jan;66(1):69-74. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.104. Epub 2011 Jun 15.

Long-term effect of exercise on bone mineral density and body composition in post-menopausal ex-elite athletes: a retrospective study.

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Human Physiology, University ‘Tor Vergata’, Rome, Italy.

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  • Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jan;66(1):142.



The aim of this retrospective study was to determine the long-term effect of exercise on bone mineral density (BMD), bone mineral content (BMC) and body composition (BC) in post-menopausal women who were elite athletes during their youth compared with sedentary controls.


It is a retrospective study and carried out in an outpatient clinic. A total of 48 post-menopausal women (54-73 years of age) were enrolled. Ex-elite athletes with long-term (>20 years) histories of significant training and performance were divided into two groups: weight-bearing sports (runners, n=12) and non-weight-bearing sports (swimmers, n=12). The athletes were age matched with sedentary controls (n=24). BMD, BMC and BC were measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Healthcare and sport activity histories were evaluated using a questionnaire.


No significant differences were found with regard to body weight, height, body mass index and hours of activity between the two groups of athletes. There were no significant differences in activity levels between athletes and controls at the time of this study. BMD and BMC were not significantly different between athletes; they were significantly higher in athletes than in controls (P<0.001). Although the ex-athletes did not significantly differ in BC, left and right lean arm mass and arm BMD were significantly higher in swimmers than in runners (P<0.0001).


The high level of physical activity observed in female athletes is associated with improved muscle mass, BMD and BMC, and physical activity during youth seems to have a beneficial effect on bone mass and helps to prevent bone loss due to aging.

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