Good news for budding Beckhams! A recent study has found that playing football can boost bone development in teenage boys.
In a study comparing adolescent footballers to swimmers, cyclists and a control group of boys not involved in regular sport, scientists at the University of Exeter found football led to significantly better bones after one year of training.
Adolescence is the key period for bone development, and poor development at this stage is linked to reduced peak bone mass (the amount of bone mass at the end of the skeletal maturation, around age 30), increased fracture risk and osteoporosis later in life.
Though swimming and cycling have proven health benefits, the scientists said their study "raises a question" about whether they are good for bone development due to the non-weight bearing training - and they say young swimmers and cyclists could benefit from more weight-bearing exercise in training regimes.
"Our research shows that playing football can improve bone development in comparison to swimming and cycling," said first author Dimitris Vlachopoulos. "Though we focussed on aspiring professionals who played as much as nine hours a week, playing football for three hours a week might be enough for a substantial effect."
The year-long study, of 116 boys aged 12-14, took a variety of measures including bone mineral content (BMC). BMC measurements were taken at the lumbar spine (lower back) and femoral neck (upper leg) - both key sites for both fractures and osteoporosis.
The results showed footballers had higher BMC than swimmers and cyclists after one year of sport-specific training.
One innovative aspect of the study was the measurement of bone texture of the lumbar spine using trabecular bone score (TBS) - the first use of this technique in adolescent athletes.
The study appears in the Journal of Bone & Mineral Research.