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  • Posted January 9, 2024

Teen Sports Pay Dividends for Bone Health Decades Later

Teens who are active are doing their bones a lasting favor, Japanese researchers report.

"Physical exercise in adolescence affects BMD [bone mineral density] more than 50 years later in older adults," said lead researcher Dr. Yoshifumi Tamura, a faculty member at Juntendo University in Tokyo. "Our findings can guide the selection of sports played during adolescence for longer health benefits."

The deterioration of bone tissue -- called osteoporosis -- is a leading cause of falls among older adults, leading to fractures and a need for long-term nursing care. The best time to prevent it is in youth, researchers said, because the body's ability to build bone mass begins to decline in the 20s.

"BMD is difficult to increase once it decreases," Tamura said in a university news release. "Therefore, it is important to increase peak bone mass during adolescence to maintain BMD in old age."

While other studies have shown that a 10% increase in peak bone mass during adolescence can stave off osteoporosis for up to 13 years, this team wondered what sports activities might help most.

In their study of close to 1,600 folks between 65 and 84 years of age, they zeroed in on some key trends.

The takeaway: Seniors who engaged in high-impact sports as teens had healthier bones than those who didn't. Researchers looked at their fitness, blood markers such as vitamin D levels, and bone density in their upper thigh and lower spine.

The most common teen sports activities included basketball, baseball/softball, judo, table tennis, tennis, volleyball and swimming.

Seniors who had played basketball in their teens had significantly stronger thigh bones. Body weight and vitamin D levels also played a part, the study found.

Women who had been swimmers or had played volleyball in their teens had stronger bones in their lower spine. Sports type was not linked with lower spine bone density in men. But body weight, blood levels of vitamin D and the presence of diabetes did play a significant role, the study found.

While bone density values were in normal ranges for men, women had lower values and more of them were taking medication for ostoporosis.

Diabetes, physical activity, current smokers and alcohol intake were much higher in men.

The findings suggest that older folks who engaged in high-impact sports activities as teens had better bone health in old age. Researchers stressed that these benefits are not limited to athletes, but to anyone who was active while in junior or senior high.

The findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more about osteoporosis.

SOURCE: Juntendo University Research Promotion Center, news release, Jan. 8, 2024

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