Physical activity for children can do more than fight childhood obesity, according to new research from Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden. It can also keep bones strong throughout life.
For the study, researchers followed 808 boys and girls aged 7 to 9 for six years. Each day, these children performed 40 minutes of physical activity at school. The scientists recorded the children’s skeletal development and any bone fractures that occurred over the years. They then compared numbers to another control group in which students exercised for 60 minutes total each week.
While children who exercised daily reported 72 fractures, those in the other group had a total of 143 fractures. The daily exercisers also had higher bone density in the spine compared with those who exercised less. Developing denser bones early in life can result in stronger bones decades later, as the natural thinning of bone over time weakens the skeleton.
To find a correlation between exercise in youth and a lower risk of fracture later in life, the scientists looked to 708 former male athletes in their 60s and 70s. Researchers compared their fracture rates and bone density with readings from healthy men of the same age who had not trained at an elite level. Former athletes had a smaller rate of loss in bone density, suggesting they were less likely to suffer a fracture.
“According to our study, exercise interventions in childhood may be associated with lower fracture risks as people age, due to the increases in peak bone mass that occurs in growing children who perform regular physical activity,” lead author Dr. Bjorn Rosengren, of Skane University Hospital, said in a statement.
The findings were presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day in Chicago.