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For better bones later, try shooting hoops now Add to ...

The reasons for getting off the couch just keep piling up. The latest one? A new study says that young men who participate in load bearing sports – think basketball, not swimming – are better protected against osteoporosis as they age.

It may not grab young men’s attention, but if they look well into the future and think about hip fractures, it should.

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Osteoporosis, which affects an estimated 200 million people worldwide, is the loss of bone density and the thinning of bone tissue. Even though it is frequently considered a woman’s disease, men do develop it, usually after age 65. Among its many consequences, the group Osteoporosis Canada notes that the statistics on hip fractures are “particular disturbing.” As it points out on its website, of the approximately 25,000 hip fractures in Canada in 1993 – the most recent year for which data is available, presumably – 80 per cent were osteoporosis related.

But doing load-bearing exercise may help men avoid such a fate, according to this new study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Researchers looked at more than 800 men who were ages 18 to 20 when the study began. Their bone mass was measured at the start of the study, and their exercise habits were recorded. Five years later, they underwent bone scans and reported their activity levels.

“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,” senior study author Mattias Lorentzon of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg said in a release.

Men who participated in load-bearing sports four hours a week showed an increase in hip bone density of 1.3 per cent. The men who were sedentary lost about 2.1 per cent of bone mass in the hip.

Researchers found that basketball and volleyball were the best sports to build bone mass, followed by soccer and tennis. On the other side, sports such as swimming and cycling – which don’t put much of an increased load on the body’s bones – did not seem to be associated with increased bone mass or building bigger bones.

So if you want to build bigger and stronger bones, get out and do activities that put a load on your skeletal system. At least, that’s the clear suggestion for Caucasian men in Sweden, it being the only ethnic group included in the study.

Researchers said more studies are needed to see if load-bearing exercise can have the same effect on men in other ethnic groups and women.

“Such research is crucial to understanding how osteoporosis develops and more importantly how to prevent it,” Keith Hruska, president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, said in the release.

Has all the recent research underlining the benefits of exercise prompted you to get moving more often?

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

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