Men in their early twenties who play a lot of football are protecting themselves from brittle bone disease, according to a study.
Playing volleyball, basketball or other load-bearing sports, such as football or tennis, for four hours a week or more increases bone mass and could help prevent osteoporosis.
The largest study of its kind discovered that young men who actively resisted the urge to adopt a 'couch-potato' lifestyle seemed to gain the biggest bone benefit.
Senior study author Doctor Mattias Lorentzon, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said: 'Men who increased their load-bearing activity from age 19 to 24 not only developed more bone, but also had larger bones compared to men who were sedentary during the same period.'
Bigger bones with more mass are thought to offer a shield against osteoporosis, a disease that affects men and women alike, in which bones become porous and weak over time and start to fracture by the age 50 or later.
Dr Lorentzon added, "Osteoporosis actually seems to get its start by age 25 when bones start to lose tissue.
"So this study sends an important message to young men, the more you move, the more bone you build."
Sports that involve jumping or fast starts and stops and increase the load put on the body’s bones seemed most associated with the enhanced protection for men.
Dr Lorentzon and his colleagues found that basketball and volleyball seemed the best kinds of activities for building bone mass, followed by football and tennis. Such load-bearing sports seem to push the body to form new bone tissue.
Activities that do not put an increased load on the bones - such as swimming and bicycling - did not seem associated with the building of bigger bones or more bone mass, even though they offer other health benefits.
Osteoporosis affects more than 200 million people worldwide yet many are unaware that they are at risk. The disease has been called the silent epidemic because bone loss occurs without symptoms and the disease often is first diagnosed after a fracture. It is more common in women, but men also develop it, usually after age 65.
The researchers studied 833 men who were 18 to 20-years-old at the start of the study. They measured their bone mass and collected information about their exercise habits. Five years later the recruits came back to the lab to report activity levels and get bone scans again.
The researchers discovered men who both started off with a high level of load-bearing exercise at the study’s beginning and those who stepped up the pace had a better chance at building bone than men who remained sedentary or those who slacked off during the five year period.
They found that for every hour of increased physical activity during the five-year study, the men in this study gained bone mass.
The study found that recruits who participated in load-bearing sports for four hours a week or more showed an increase in hip bone density of 1.3 per cent.
At the same time, men who remained sedentary during the five year study lost about 2.1 per cent of bone mass in the hip, a worrying finding because thinning hip bones are more likely to break later in life. Hip fractures in men often lead to serious disability and complications.
The findings were published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
–Daily Mail, London