Differences in bone density, body composition, physical activity, and diet between child gymnasts and untrained children 7-8 years of age

J Bone Miner Res. 2003 Jun;18(6):1043-50. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.2003.18.6.1043.


Strategies that enhance the acquisition of bone mass may be protective against osteoporosis. BMD was compared in 20 artistic gymnasts (10 boys; 10 girls) and 20 untrained children ages 7-8 years. Higher regional values of BMD were observed in female gymnasts than untrained girls. If retained to adulthood, this higher BMD may protect skeletal integrity in later life. Strategies that enhance the acquisition of bone mass in children may assist with the prevention of osteoporosis. This study explored the effects of regular high-impact and weight-bearing activity before the age of 7 years on total and regional bone mineral density (BMD). Twenty artistic gymnasts (10 boys and 10 girls) and 20 untrained children, 7-8 years of age, were recruited. The untrained children were matched to gymnasts by sex, height, weight, and age. Female gymnasts trained 8-10 h per week and had trained regularly for 3-4 years. Male gymnasts trained 4-6 h per week and had trained for 1-2 years. Measurements of bone mineral density were made using DXA for total body BMD (TBBMD); lumbar spine, both areal (aSBMD) and volumetric (vSBMD); total spine; pelvis; arms; and legs. Significant mean differences (8-10%) in aSBMD, vSBMD, arm BMD, and TBBMD were observed between female gymnasts and untrained girls (p < 0.05: aSBMD, vSBMD, and TBBMD body mass (BM); p < 0.01: arm BMD). A nonsignificant trend toward a higher TBBMD/BM and arm BMD was observed in male gymnasts compared with untrained boys. Trends toward a higher BMD within the pelvis, legs, and total spine were also observed in gymnasts. There were no differences in total and regional BMD between untrained boys and untrained girls. The results suggest that gymnastics training before the age of 7 years enhances the acquisition of bone mass at selected skeletal sites. The magnitude of this enhancement seems to be linked to the cumulative volume of such training. If retained during adolescence and young adulthood, a surfeit of bone acquired through high-impact and weight-bearing activity in early childhood may protect skeletal integrity in later life.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition*
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Bone Density*
  • Child
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Normal Distribution
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Spine / anatomy & histology
  • Sports*