Soccer boosts bone development in boys

14 July 2017

Those who liked to kick a ball around had "significantly better" bones after one year of training.

Playing soccer can improve bone development in adolescent boys, researchers claim.

Scientists at the University of Exeter have compared young footballers with swimmers, cyclists and a control group of boys not involved in a regular sport, and found that those who liked to kick a ball around had "significantly better" bones after one year of training.

"Our research shows that playing football can improve bone development in comparison to swimming and cycling," said study author Dimitris Vlachopoulos. "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."

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For the study, the researchers analysed 116 boys aged 12-14 and took a variety of measures including bone mineral content (BMC).

They found that the footballers' BMC was seven per cent higher than that of cyclists at the lumbar spine, and five per cent higher at the femoral neck (upper leg), both of which are key sites for fractures and osteoporosis.

Though swimming and cycling have proven health benefits, the scientists said their study "raises a question" about whether they are good for bone development due to the non-weight bearing training - and they say young swimmers and cyclists could benefit from more weight-bearing exercise in training regimes.

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

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The full study has been published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

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