Few studies have examined the effects of retirement from sports involving regular, high impact and weight bearing activity on bone mass. This cross-sectional study compared total body and regional areal bone mineral density (aBMD, g/cm(2)) within female former gymnasts and women who had never participated in structured sport or exercise, and explored relations between aBMD of these former gymnasts and their duration of retirement. Eighteen sedentary female former gymnasts (GYM) and 18 sedentary controls (CON) were recruited. GYM displayed a broad range of duration of retirement (3-12 years) and a wide age range (20-32 years). GYM and CON were paired individually to match for age, body mass and stature. GYM had commenced training at least 3 years pre-menarche and had trained post-menarche for 2 or more years. They had trained continuously for 5-12 years and had retired between age 14 and 22 years. Measurements of aBMD and body composition were made using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Group mean values of physical and skeletal characteristics were compared using paired t-tests. Linear regression was used to explore possible relations of aBMD within GYM to duration of retirement. GYM displayed a higher aBMD than CON at all measurement sites, which ranged in magnitude from 6% for the total body ( P=0.004), to 11% for the total femur ( P=0.006). Elevations of aBMD within GYM equated to T-scores ranging from +0.8 (arms) to +1.7 (legs). There were no differences in body composition or age of menarche between groups, although 11 of 18 GYM reported a history of irregular menses. There was no significant decline of aBMD with increasing duration of retirement in GYM. The results suggested that an elevated bone mass in female former gymnasts was retained during early adulthood, in spite of a cessation of training for up to 12 years.