Teen Sports Improve Bone Health Later in Life, Study Finds


Staying active as we age is critical to maintaining our physical and mental health later in life, but it turns out our early years can be an important foundation for how our bodies age as the decades go on. 

A new study published in the Frontiers in Physiology journal looked at how exercising as teenagers can affect our bone mineral density later in life. More specifically, people who participated in sports as a teenager reaped the benefits more than half a century later.

“Physical exercise in adolescence affects BMD [bone mineral density] more than 50 years later in older adults,” lead researcher Dr. Yoshifumi Tamura said in a statement. “Our findings can guide the selection of sports played during adolescence for longer health benefits.” Because bone mineral density is “difficult to increase once it decreases,” Tamura said, “it is important to increase peak bone mass during adolescence to maintain BMD in old age.”

The researchers examined nearly 1,600 people between the ages of 65 and 84 and looked at some key trends to come to their conclusions. By and large, they found that seniors who participated in high-impact sports as teenagers had healthier bones than those who didn’t. The scientists looked at various metrics including their vitamin D levels and bone density in their upper thigh and lower spine.

The most common sports the participants played as teenagers included basketball, baseball/softball, judo, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, and swimming. Basketball was found to have an especially profound impact on bone health later in life, as the study found seniors who played the sport in their teens had significantly stronger thigh bones. 

Tamura and the team hopes that their findings will open the door for more research and methods to prevent skeletal decline throughout our lives. “Our study sheds light on the importance of exercise in adolescence for the prevention of osteoporosis and provides scientific evidence for establishing early preventive measures against osteoporosis in the future,” Tamura said. 

If you have kids, you might want to get them into a sport for their own good long after you’re gone. 

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