Game on! Football good for bones, study finds

25 Jul 2017

Playing football can improve bone development in adolescent boys, according to new research from the University of Exeter.

The year-long research study, which examined data from 116 boys aged between 12 and 14, looked at a number of factors including bone mineral content (BMC) in both the back and leg.

The research found footballers had stronger bones compared to boys who had been focusing on swimming and cycling. It showed that footballers’ BMC was 7 per cent higher than that of cyclists at the lumbar spine, and 5% higher at the femoral neck.

“Our research shows that playing football can improve bone development in comparison to swimming and cycling,” Dimitris Vlachopoulos of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter said. “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."

Dr Kate Ward of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton said the study was an important addition to our understanding of exercise and bone growth during adolescence.

“Adolescence is a crucial time for us to try and achieve peak bone mass, and set-up our bones for later life. The data in this study shows the importance of weight bearing exercise compared to 'non weight-bearing' sports during growth. It will be important to see how this translates to children who participate in weight-bearing sports such as football as a recreational hobby.

Also whilst swimming and cycling didn't show the same effect, as we get older and experience joint pain and other conditions, it helps to remain active in sports such as these rather than being put off activity all together.”

Find more information on exercise for strong bones, or see our publication Your children and osteoporosis.

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