October 1989

The Relationship of Swimming Exercise to Bone Mass in Men and Women

Author Affiliations

From the Medical and Research Services, Portland (Ore) Veterans Administration Medical Center (Drs Orwoll and McClung and Ms Oviatt); and the Department of Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland (Drs Orwoll and McClung and Mss Ferar, Oviatt, and Huntington).

Arch Intern Med. 1989;149(10):2197-2200. doi:10.1001/archinte.1989.00390100035009

• Exercise appears to be capable of exerting a positive effect on bone mass, but how exercise can be used to best advantage in the prevention and therapy of osteopenia is unclear. Weight-bearing activity has been commonly considered to be essential for the beneficial effects of exercise on the skeleton, and, therefore, swimming has been considered valueless in the maintenance of bone mass. To examine this issue we measured radial and vertebral bone mineral density in a group of subjects aged 40 to 85 years who had been swimming regularly for at least 3 years as well as in a similar group of nonexercising control subjects. The swimmers engaged in no other forms of regular exercise, and no subject had other conditions known to affect bone or mineral metabolism. Dietary calcium and protein intakes were similar in the two groups. At both radial (0.84 ± 0.08 vs 0.81 ± 0.09 g/cm2) and vertebral (123 ± 27 vs 108 ± 31 mg/cm3) sites the male swimmers had significantly greater bone mineral density than did the nonexercisers. In women, however, no relationship of swimming to bone mineral density could be identified. These results suggest that swimming exercise may be beneficial in the prevention or therapy of osteopenia and that its usefulness in this regard should be further investigated.

(Arch Intern Med. 1989;149:2197-2200)