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Ball games and circuit training boost children’s bone health

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Schoolchildren develop stronger bones, increased muscular strength and improved balance when they participate in ball games or circuit training, according to a Danish study.

Researchers examined bone and muscle health in 295 schoolchildren aged eight to ten years old, looking into the effects of various types of intense exercise at school versus normal school PE classes.

Over a whole school year, the children participated in a training programme known as FIT FIRST, which stands for ‘Frequent Intense Training — Football, Interval Running and Strength Training’.

The findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that three weekly sessions of small-sided ball games or circuit training over a full school year improved bone mineralisation and several aspects of the children’s muscular fitness. This suggests that well-organised intense physical education classes can help to develop musculoskeletal health in this age group.

“Our research shows that intense exercise at school has clear positive effects on bone density, muscular strength and balance in 8-10-year-old children,” said project leader Peter Krustrup, Professor of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark.

“In the children in third grade who played ball games three against three or participated in circuit training for 3 x 40 minutes a week, muscular strength increased by 10% and balance improved by 15%, while the children’s bone density increased by a whole 45% compared to the control group. These types of sports are great ways for children to ‘put bone in the bank’.”

Malte Nejst Larsen, Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Denmark, added: “The study shows that bone density in the ball-game group rose by 7% in the legs and by 3% in the body as a whole, giving a real boost to bone health. Exercise in school for children aged 8-10 which improves bone density, muscular strength and balance is the first big step towards preventing osteoporosis later in life.”