The study results, published in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy, don't surprise Susan Randall, senior director of education at the National Osteoporosis Foundation. "Swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise," she said. "Soccer increases the loading on the bone which actually stimulates bone production."
Bellew isn't discouraging those who love swimming to give up the sport. "The odds are the swimmers' density [in the study] will be fine, because they are active, but our data suggest they aren't accruing as much bone as those who do weight-bearing exercise."
"If your primary objective is to increase bone mass, swimming is not the best," he said. "But in terms of weight maintenance, it's good."
Besides exercise, Bellew suggests teens can boost their bone health by reducing their soda intake and increasing their milk consumption. "Genetics is probably the largest factor," he added, so those with a family history of osteoporosis may want to pay even more attention to bone-building exercise.
Randall agreed that families should pay even closer attention to their children if a parent or grandparent suffers from low bone density. And parents can emphasize a healthy diet for their sons as well as daughters. While men are less likely than women to suffer osteoporosis, they still need to build bone, she said.
One of the first foods teen girls often abandon are dairy products, Randall said, because they perceive them as fattening. Parents should be sure their children get the recommended 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. That's roughly the amount of calcium in four glasses of milk. And the milk can be low-fat, she said.
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