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Physical Activity in Childhood Linked To Healthier Bones

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Young people who tend to be more physically active while growing up usually have stronger bones later in life, according to the ongoing Iowa Bone Development Study. Results have also shown that older teenagers tend not to exercise enough in order to enjoy the same benefits.

However, scientists reported that higher physical activity during childhood usually results in healthier bones even if the youngsters exercise much less in their late teens. That is to say, being physically active as a child results in stronger bones as an adolescent, lead study author Kathleen Janz told Reuters.

The research included 530 children, all of whom were about five years old at the beginning of the study. At the ages of five, eight, 11, 13, 15 and 17 they were asked to wear accelerometers for four or five consecutive days, including a weekend day. This aimed to measure their physical activity while they were awake. When the participants reached 17 years of age, the researchers scanned their bones in order to assess the precise geometry of their bones, which is a key factor in bone strength.

Results showed that less than 6% of girls were highly active during childhood and most girls were inactive in their late teens. Similarly, boys also became less active with time. However, they were more physically active than girls on a daily basis in childhood.

The bone scans taken at the age of 17 showed that boys and girls who got the most exercise in their childhood had denser bones and superior bone shapes compared to the rest of the sample.

It is easy for children to be active, Janz said. However, getting teenagers to exercise can be hard since they have have their own ideas of how best to use their free time, she added, noting that parents should do their best to encourage physical activity in childhood.