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Playing football can help prevent osteoporosis, say Spanish researchers

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Participating in certain sports during adolescence can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis in later life, according to a Spanish study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.

The researchers said that doing exercise during puberty can improve bone health in adulthood, with sports such as football, handball and basketball more effective than others such as swimming.

According to the charity Age UK, almost 3 million people in the UK are estimated to have osteoporosis, although few people know they have it until they break a bone. The condition results in more than 230,000 fractures occurring every year.

In women, bone loss becomes more rapid in the first few years after the menopause due to changes in oestrogen production. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of broken bones.

But physical activity can help optimise bone health.

To learn more about the influence that different sports have on bone health during puberty, researchers at the University of Castilla-La Mancha analysed 200 Spanish girls aged between 9 and 13. The girls were divided into five groups corresponding to the type of sport they played (swimming, football, basketball and handball, and a control group which did no extracurricular exercise).

“With this study we wish to find out which sport discipline promotes the greatest bone acquisition in developing girls,” lead author Esther Ubago-Guisado told science news website SINC.

Researchers conducted tests to determine bone mass, fat mass and muscle mass, and assessed the girls´ stage of sexual development using a Tanner test.

To analyse the data, they divided the girls into prepubescent (before puberty) and pubescent (during puberty) groups, and compared participants with regard to the four sports (swimming, football, basketball and handball) and those who did no extracurricular sport.

Results showed that practising a sport with a high osteogenic effect (football, basketball or handball) at an early age guarantees greater accumulation of bone mass in comparison with low osteogenic effect sports (swimming). This is because bones experience a lower mechanical load in swimming.

“The results reveal that sport type is a variable that can have an influence on bone health in girls during childhood. These data may be useful as a method for preventing bone diseases in adulthood,” Ubago-Guisado concluded.

The authors also said that two hours of physical activity a week in school is not enough to assist in the acquisition of bone mass at an early age.