Introduction: It remains uncertain whether long-term participation in regular weight-bearing exercise confers an advantage to bone structure and strength in old age. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between lifetime sport and leisure activity participation on bone material and structural properties at the axial and appendicular skeleton in older men (>50 years).
Methods: We used dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to assess hip, spine and ultradistal (UD) radius areal bone mineral density (aBMD) (n=161), quantitative ultrasound (QUS) to measure heel bone quality (n=161), and quantitative computed tomography (QCT) to assess volumetric BMD, bone geometry and strength at the spine (L(1)-L(3)) and mid-femur (n=111). Current (>50+ years) and past hours of sport and leisure activity participation during adolescence (13-18 years) and adulthood (19-50 years) were assessed by questionnaire. This information was used to calculate the total time (min) spent participating in sport and leisure activities and an osteogenic index (OI) score for each participant, which provides a measure of participation in weight-bearing activities.
Results: Regression analysis revealed that a greater lifetime (13-50+ years) and mid-adulthood (19-50 years) OI, but not total time (min), was associated with a greater mid-femur total and cortical area, cortical bone mineral content (BMC), and the polar moment of inertia (I (p)) and heel VOS (p ranging from <0.05 to <0.01). These results were independent of age, height (or femoral length) and weight (or muscle cross-sectional area). Adolescent OI scores were not found to be significant predictors of bone structure or strength. Furthermore, no significant relationships were detected with areal or volumetric BMD at any site. Subjects were then categorized into either a high (H) or low/non-impact (L) group during adolescence (13-18 years) and adulthood (19-50+ years) according to their OI scores during each of these periods. Three groups were subsequently formed to reflect weight-bearing impact categories during adolescence and then adulthood: LL, HL and HH. Compared to the LL group, mid-femur total and cortical area, cortical BMC and I (p) were 6.5-14.2% higher in the HH group. No differences were detected between the LL and HL groups.
Conclusions: In conclusion, these findings indicate that long-term regular participation in sport and leisure activities categorized according to an osteogenic index [but not the total time (min) spent participating in all sport and leisure activities] was an important determinant of bone size, quality and strength, but not BMD, at loaded sites in older men. Furthermore, continued participation in weight-bearing exercise in early to mid-adulthood appears to be important for reducing the risk of low bone strength in old age.