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The interactions of physical activity, exercise and genetics and their associations with bone mineral density: implications for injury risk in elite athletes

Herbert, AJ and Williams, AG and Hennis, PJ and Erskine, RM and Sale, C and Day, SH and Stebbings, GK (2018) The interactions of physical activity, exercise and genetics and their associations with bone mineral density: implications for injury risk in elite athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119 (1). pp. 29-47. ISSN 1439-6319

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Abstract

Low bone mineral density (BMD) is established as a primary predictor of osteoporotic risk and can also have substantial implications for athlete health and injury risk in the elite sporting environment. BMD is a highly multi-factorial phenotype influenced by diet, hormonal characteristics and physical activity. The interrelationships between such factors, and a strong genetic component, suggested to be around 50–85% at various anatomical sites, determine skeletal health throughout life. Genome-wide association studies and case–control designs have revealed many loci associated with variation in BMD. However, a number of the candidate genes identified at these loci have no known associated biological function or have yet to be replicated in subsequent investigations. Furthermore, few investigations have considered gene–environment interactions—in particular, whether specific genes may be sensitive to mechanical loading from physical activity and the outcome of such an interaction for BMD and potential injury risk. Therefore, this review considers the importance of physical activity on BMD, genetic associations with BMD and how subsequent investigation requires consideration of the interaction between these determinants. Future research using well-defined independent cohorts such as elite athletes, who experience much greater mechanical stress than most, to study such phenotypes, can provide a greater understanding of these factors as well as the biological underpinnings of such a physiologically “extreme” population. Subsequently, modification of training, exercise or rehabilitation programmes based on genetic characteristics could have substantial implications in both the sporting and public health domains once the fundamental research has been conducted successfully.

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