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Bone density and neuromuscular function in older competitive athletes depend on running distance



Individuals who are involved in explosive sport types, such as 100-m sprints and long jump, have greater bone density, leg muscle size, jumping height and grip strength than individuals involved in long-distance running.


The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between different types of physical activity with bone, lean mass and neuromuscular performance in older individuals.


We examined short- (n = 50), middle- (n = 19) and long-distance (n = 109) athletes at the 15th European Masters Championships in Poznań, Poland. Dual X-ray absorptiometry was used to measure areal bone mineral density (aBMD) and lean tissue mass. Maximal countermovement jump, multiple one-leg hopping and maximal grip force tests were performed.


Short-distance athletes showed significantly higher aBMD at the legs, hip, lumbar spine and trunk compared to long-distance athletes (p ≤ 0.0012). Countermovement jump performance, hop force, grip force, leg lean mass and arm lean mass were greater in short-distance athletes (p ≤ 0.027). A similar pattern was seen in middle-distance athletes who typically showed higher aBMD and better neuromuscular performance than long-distance athletes, but lower in magnitude than short-distance athletes. In all athletes, aBMD was the same or higher than the expected age-adjusted population mean at the lumbar spine, hip and whole body. This effect was greater in the short- and middle-distance athletes.


The stepwise relation between short-, middle- and long-distance athletes on bone suggests that the higher-impact loading protocols in short-distance disciplines are more effective in promoting aBMD. The regional effect on bone, with the differences between the groups being most marked at load-bearing regions (legs, hip, spine and trunk) rather than non-load-bearing regions, is further evidence in support of the idea that bone adaptation to exercise is dependent upon the local loading environment, rather than as part of a systemic effect.

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The authors wish to thank the subjects involved in the study for donating their time. Tilo Blenk, Arndt Boshof, Constanze Gutwasser, Biljana Radonic and Frank Touby of the Center of Muscle and Bone Research are thanked for their assistance in the course of the project. Our colleagues in Poland and Manchester are thanked for the enjoyable collaboration and assistance in the course of the data collection.

Conflicts of interest

Rainer Rawer is an employee of Novotec Medical. Dieter Felsenberg acts as an unpaid consultant to Novotec Medical for the exploitation of the study’s results. All other authors have no conflict of interest.


Institutional funding only was used for the implementation of this study.

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Correspondence to U. Gast.

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Gast, U., Belavý, D.L., Armbrecht, G. et al. Bone density and neuromuscular function in older competitive athletes depend on running distance. Osteoporos Int 24, 2033–2042 (2013).

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  • Bone
  • Elderly
  • Exercise
  • Mechanical loading
  • Muscle
  • Osteporosis