The mechanisms of aging produce a range of detrimental effects on bones, most evidently the progressive loss of density and resilience that becomes osteoporosis in its later and severe stages. It is known that strength training blunts the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with age, and reduces mortality risk in later life. Here, researchers show that it can also slow the aging of bone tissue. The effect size is small, but note that the researchers are comparing well trained athletes with adequately trained athletes, rather than with the general population.
Cross-sectional and interventional studies suggest that high-intensity strength and impact-type training provide a powerful osteogenic stimulus even in old age. However, longitudinal evidence on the ability of high-intensity training to attenuate age-related bone deterioration is currently lacking. This follow-up study assessed the role of continued strength and sprint training on bone aging in 40- to 85-year-old male sprinters (n = 69) with a long-term training background.
Peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT)-derived bone structural, strength, and densitometric parameters of the distal tibia and tibia midshaft were assessed at baseline and 10 years later. The groups of well-trained (actively competing, sprint training including strength training ≥2 times/week; n = 36) and less-trained (less than 2 times/week, no strength training, switched to endurance training; n = 33) athletes were formed according to self-reports at follow-up. Longitudinal changes in bone traits in the two groups were examined.
Over the 10-year period, group-by-time interactions were found for distal tibia total bone mineral content (BMC), trabecular volumetric bone mineral density (vBMD), and compressive strength index, and for mid-tibia cortical cross-sectional area, medullary area, total BMC, and BMC at the anterior and posterior sites. These interactions reflected maintained (distal tibia) or improved (mid-tibia) bone properties in the well-trained and decreased bone properties in the less-trained athletes over the 10-year period. Depending on the bone variable, the difference in change in favor of the well-trained group ranged from 2% to 5%.
In conclusion, our longitudinal findings indicate that continued strength and sprint training is associated with maintained or even improved tibial properties in middle-aged and older male sprint athletes, suggesting that regular, intensive exercise counteracts bone aging.