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Playing football strengthens bones of men with prostate cancer

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Football training is not just good for your heart and muscles — it´s good for your bones, too.

A new study shows that the number of times players accelerate and brake during football training is linked to changes in leg bone mass. That´s because being challenged by an opponent, changing direction, kicking and blocking the ball provide a wide range of powerful stimuli to the bone tissue, making the bones stronger.

The effect is so great that playing recreational football can help men with prostate cancer resist the loss of bone mineral density caused as a side-effect of their treatment. University of Copenhagen scientists found that one hour´s football training a few times a week counters many of the negative effects of the treatment, which lowers the level of testosterone in the body.

Even older men being treated for prostate cancer get stronger bones from playing football, according to two articles published in Osteoporosis International and the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

“Football training counters many side-effects of the treatment. It is impressive to see such big improvements in both muscular strength and bone density, despite the anti-androgen treatment,” said Peter Krustrup, Professor of Team Sport and Health in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at Copenhagen University.

“Our so-called FC Prostate study showed that just 12 weeks of football training increased leg bone mass and elevated the blood-borne bone formation markers osteocalcin and P1NP by 35% and 50%, respectively. After 32 weeks of training we observed a systematic 1-2% increase in bone mineral density at the hip and upper part of the thigh bone in the football players compared to the control group, equivalent to bones 2-4 years younger,” Professor Krustrup explained.

As part of the study, players´ movements during training were tracked precisely with GPS. These measurements showed that the players´ average speed was relatively low, but they performed 300 decelerations, 200 accelerations and 100 running bouts per hour of football training session. This is believed to be the reason why football is better for the bones than other types of training, such as jumping on and off a step bench, Copenhagen University noted.

“The changes in bone mass in the legs of the football group show a significant correlation with the number of times they accelerate and brake,” added Jacob Uth, a physiotherapist at the University Hospitals Centre for Health Research at Copenhagen University. “This gives an indication that the effect is linked to the specific activity that we see in football, where there is interval running with a lot of accelerating and braking which place great stress on the bone tissue, and that is what makes them stronger.”