Researchers in the UK have shown through a study that playing football helps improve bone development in adolescent boys.
The study by University of Exeter scientists involve comparison of adolescent footballers to swimmers, cyclists and a control group of boys not involved in regular sport with findings indicating football being a sport that led to significantly better bones after one year of training.
Adolescence is the key period for bone development, and poor development at this stage is linked to reduced peak bone mass (the amount of bone mass at the end of the skeletal maturation, around age 30), increased fracture risk and osteoporosis later in life. Other sport activities likes swimming and cycling have shown health benefits, but the current 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.
“Our research shows that playing football can improve bone development in comparison to swimming and cycling,” said first author Dimitris Vlachopoulos, of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter. “Though we focussed 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.”
The year-long study, of 116 boys aged 12-14, took a variety of measures including bone mineral content (BMC). BMC measurements were taken at the lumbar spine (lower back) and femoral neck (upper leg) – both key sites for both fractures and osteoporosis. The results showed footballers had higher BMC than swimmers and cyclists after one year of sport-specific training. For example, footballers’ BMC was 7% higher than that of cyclists at the lumbar spine, and 5% higher at the femoral neck.
The athletes in the study were all playing high-level sport – the footballers in Exeter City FC’s youth setup, and the swimmers and cyclists at leading clubs in the South West.
The boys in the control group, though generally active, were not involved in regular sport.
Despite the many health benefits of cycling and swimming, the study found little difference in bone development between cyclists, swimmers and the control group.