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Active teens develop stronger bones

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Young people who are active tend to develop stronger bones, according to a new study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, measured the physical activity and bone strength of 309 young people over a specific four-year period that is crucial for lifelong, healthy skeletal development.

That four-year window — between the ages of 10 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys — is a vital time when as much as 36% of the human skeleton is formed and bone is particularly responsive to physical activity, the university said.

The research team used high resolution 3D X-ray images to compare differences between the study participants who spent at least 60 minutes on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day and those who got less than 30 minutes a day.

“We found that teens who are less active had weaker bones, and bone strength is critical for preventing fractures,” said Leigh Gabel, lead author and PhD candidate in orthopaedics at UBC.

“Kids who are sitting around are not loading their bones in ways that promote bone strength,” Gabel explained.

Co-author Heather McKay, a professor in orthopaedics and family practice at UBC and the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, suggested that school- and community-based approaches would make it easier for children and families to be more active.

However, the good news is that physical activity does not have to be structured or organised to be effective. Short bursts such as dancing at home, playing tag at the park, chasing your dog or hopping and skipping count, too.

“The bottom line is that children and youth need to step away from their screens and move to build the foundation for lifelong bone health,” McKay said.