Is bone tissue really affected by swimming? A systematic review

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 7;8(8):e70119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070119. eCollection 2013.


Background: Swimming, a sport practiced in hypogravity, has sometimes been associated with decreased bone mass.

Aim: This systematic review aims to summarize and update present knowledge about the effects of swimming on bone mass, structure and metabolism in order to ascertain the effects of this sport on bone tissue.

Methods: A literature search was conducted up to April 2013. A total of 64 studies focusing on swimmers bone mass, structure and metabolism met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review.

Results: It has been generally observed that swimmers present lower bone mineral density than athletes who practise high impact sports and similar values when compared to sedentary controls. However, swimmers have a higher bone turnover than controls resulting in a different structure which in turn results in higher resistance to fracture indexes. Nevertheless, swimming may become highly beneficial regarding bone mass in later stages of life.

Conclusion: Swimming does not seem to negatively affect bone mass, although it may not be one of the best sports to be practised in order to increase this parameter, due to the hypogravity and lack of impact characteristic of this sport. Most of the studies included in this review showed similar bone mineral density values in swimmers and sedentary controls. However, swimmers present a higher bone turnover than sedentary controls that may result in a stronger structure and consequently in a stronger bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Athletes
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Humans
  • Sports
  • Swimming / physiology*

Grant support

This work was supported by ‘Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad’ ‘Plan Nacional I+D+i 2008-2011 (Project DEP DEP2011-29093)’. This project has been co-financed by “Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional” (MICINN-FEDER). AGB received a Grant FPI 2012 (BES-2012-051888) from the ‘Ministerio Economía y Competitividad’. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.