According to a Western University professor’s research, women who lived 8,000 years ago were likely stronger than today’s female athletes.

Jay Stock, professor of anthropology, has been doing intensive research looking at trends in human bone strength. Originally focusing on male bone density, Stock shifted his research attention to female bone density after realizing that women had more consistent bone density patterns over the last 8,000 years.

“In the past, the dramatic shift in men’s bones suggested they were getting more sedentary and had lower levels of activity throughout time,” said Stock. “But for women, the relative consistency was difficult to interpret.”

The study, published in the Science Advances journal, looked at current competitive female athletes at the University of Cambridge, including rowers, soccer players and long-distance runners. Stock was able to determine dramatic differences in bone strength of women in different sports.

For example, Stock found that rowers had a much higher arm strength relative to leg strength when compared to people in other sports.

According to Stock, prehistoric women’s arm strength was higher on average than today’s varsity and Olympic rowers, suggesting that women in the past were extremely active for thousands of years. Contrary to popular belief, Stock’s research shows that continuous repetitive activity could be as valuable to bone density as high-strain activity such as weight lifting.

While most of Stock’s research focuses on women, men fit the same profile. However, men’s changes are more dramatic because of hormonal differences and differences in how bone responds to stress. With women, Stock is able to focus on the subtle differences that appear in bone density which could give important insight into preventing osteoporosis and bone loss.

Currently, Stock is in the process of building and creating research projects and collaborations on campus, such as Western’s Bone and Joint Institute.

“We can get a much more fine-grained understanding of the range of activities that influence bone and how specifically they influence bone and strength in different people and throughout the body,” said Stock.