Young men rarely think about growing old, fracturing a hip when they’re elderly, or having chronic pain from osteoporosis. But based on a new Swedish study, maybe they should. That’s because young men who participate in load bearing sports — like volleyball, basketball, tennis and soccer — are better protected against osteoporosis as they age, according to researchers at the University of Gothenburg.
“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,” said senior study author Mattias Lorentzon, MD, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
While often thought of as a woman’s disease, men do develop osteoporosis, usually after age 65. Loss of minerals makes bones more porous and weak over time, putting the elderly at greater risk of fractures, often in the hip, spine, ribs and wrist. Without treatment, 1 in 5 men develop fractures caused by osteoporosis. The disease affects more than 200 million people worldwide.
In the Swedish study, researchers enrolled over 800 young men between the ages of 18 to 20. Bone mass measurements were taken and their exercise habits were noted. Five years later, the men reported their physical activity levels and underwent bone scans.
Researchers found that the men who participated in load-bearing sports for an average of four hours per week had an increase in hip bone density of 1.3 percent. Men who were sedentary or reduced their physical activity showed a 2.1 percent decrease in their hip bone mass.
The two best sports to build bone mass were basketball and volleyball, followed by soccer and tennis. Sports like cycling and swimming — which don’t increase the load on the body’s bones — didn’t seem to build stronger bones or increase bone mass. Bigger bones are thought to offer a shield against fractures.
“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,” Lorentzon said. “The more you move, the more bone you build.”
“Such research is crucial to understanding how osteoporosis develops and more importantly how to prevent it,” said Keith Hruska, MD, president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. “Bone fractures from osteoporosis devastate men and women all over the globe and ongoing research is the only way to find ways to protect men from this disease.”
The Swedish study consisted mostly of white men, but the findings are likely applicable to Caucasian men in the United States and other countries around the world. Further research is needed on other ethnic groups and in women to study the impact of load-bearing exercises on osteoporosis protection.
This osteoporosis study is published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.