Findings from a study of highly trained Paralympic athletes may have implications for the involvement of children with cerebral palsy in high-level exercise from a young age.

They may also help provide more understanding of how bone and other physiological systems adapt to exercise training.

According to the study, which involved highly trained Paralympic athletes with cerebral palsy, results suggest that their bone mineral density and other measures of body composition were similar to those of able-bodied adults of a similar age.

The athletes with hemiplegic cerebral palsy still had reduced muscle mass on the side of their body affected by neuromuscular impairment. However, the study suggests also that physical training can offset other cerebral palsy-related changes in body composition and physiology, per a media release from Wolters Kluwer Health.

The study, conducted by Phoebe Runciman, PhD, from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and her team, involved six Paralympic track and field athletes (average age: 23 years), each of whom trained for 6 to 20 hours per week and competed at an elite Paralympic level, with 100-meter sprint times between 11.5 and 12.6 seconds.

Using a technique called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, the researchers measured the participants’ body composition, including bone mineral density (BMD), fat mass, and fat-free soft tissue mass (FFSTM)—an indicator of muscle and other lean body content, the release states.

The measurements indicated similar values for BMD, and fat mass on the affected versus unaffected sides of the athletes with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. However, the measurements showed reduced FFSTM on the affected side—about 15% lower in both the upper and lower limbs, compared to the unaffected side.

Overall, BMD levels for the Paralympic athletes were similar to those of age-matched able-bodied people. In fact, BMD values were higher for the athletes with cerebral palsy compared to the general population, although the differences were not statistically significant.

In particular, the BMD findings in Paralympic athletes suggest increased density of cortical bone–the thick outer layer of bone, which responds to weight-bearing exercise. Training is also associated with normal fat mass, although the difference in FFSTM suggests a “ceiling” in how well the affected muscles can adapt to exercise, the release explains.

“The combination of these findings have important implications for the involvement of children with CP in exercise as a management or rehabilitative tool,” Runciman and her team state, in the release.

“Thus there may be a significant number of children who have the capacity to participate in high-level exercise training from a young age,” they add.

Per the release, follow-up studies are needed to confirm the long-term benefits of weight-bearing exercise for young patients with cerebral palsy.

The study was published recently in American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, the official journal of the Association of Academic Physiatrists and published by Wolters Kluwer.

[Source(s0; Wolters Kluwer Health, Science Daily]