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Bone mineral density in habitual climbers: an analogue for early hominins?




Fenwick, Aymee Dale, author
Glantz, Mica, advisor
Browning, Ray, committee member
Pante, Michael, committee member

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Functional loading history of limb morphology has given researchers insights into past human locomotor behavior and general physical capabilities, given the assumption that, during life, loads have positive dose-dependent effects on bone structure (Wallace et al., 2012). Identifying if, and then, when during human evolutionary history habitual climbing was an important part of the early hominin locomotor pattern is key to conceptualizing the transition to obligate bipedalism. Given Wolff's law we can assume that repetitive function has the ability to change the morphology of bone growth (Ruff et al. 2006, Wallace et al. 2012). With this we can expect individuals who practice frequent recreational rock climbing to be more robust at specific muscle attachment locations when compared to individuals who do not rock climb for recreation. It was further predicted that the climbers would possess larger arm musculature and an increased total bone mineral density (BMD), as well as increased BMD of the shoulders when compared to active and non-active individuals. A sample of 32 individuals, male and female, including rock climbers, active individuals and non-active individuals were asked to participate in a survey and self-assessment of physical activity that included climbing abilities, a push up test, standard body anthropomorphic measurements, and a DEXA scan. As a result, increased average total BMI standardized BMD was found among the practiced rock climbers when compared to the active and non-active individuals. Additionally, increased average BMI standardized shoulder BMD was found among the rock climbers when compared to the active and non-active individuals. It is the intention that this preliminary research be used as a proxy for how a locomotor behavior effects bone development and shows that in a modern sample population positive relationships between activity and BMD can be found.


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bone mineral density
climbing adaptations


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