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UK study shows football boosts bone development in boys

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Boys who play football may develop stronger bones, according to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Scientists at the University of Exeter compared adolescent footballers to swimmers, cyclists and a control group of boys not involved in regular sport. They found that football led to significantly better bone development after one year of training.

As the researchers pointed out, adolescence is the key period for bone development, and poor development at this stage is linked to reduced peak bone mass, increased fracture risk and osteoporosis later in life.

While swimming and cycling have proven health benefits, the study found little difference in bone development between swimmers, cyclists and the control group. The authors of the study said their findings raise questions about whether young swimmers and cyclists could benefit from more weight-bearing exercise as part of their training.

“Though we focused on aspiring professionals who played as much as nine hours a week, playing football for three hours a week might be enough for a substantial effect,” said first author Dimitris Vlachopoulos, of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter.

“We already knew exercise was key for bone growth, but here we clarify what type of exercise.

“Although we didn’t study other sports, it’s reasonable to suppose that weight-bearing, high-impact, high-intensity exercise like tennis, badminton, basketball and handball will have similar effects to football.”

The research was funded by the European Union via a Marie-Sklodowska-Curie fellowship awarded to principal investigator Dr Luis Gracia-Marco, also of the University of Exeter.

Dr Gracia-Marco said: “The sports we studied are the three most popular in the UK, and it’s important to know what effects they have in relation to bone health.

“Adolescence is the key time for bone growth. Once a person reaches puberty, the next five years are vitally important in this respect.”