Men with prostate cancer are at risk for brittle bones as an adverse effect of their treatment. However, 1 hour of soccer training a few times a week counters many of the negative effects of treatment, according to studies published in Osteoporosis International (doi:10.1007/s00198-015-3399-0) and European Journal of Applied Physiology (doi:10.1007/s00421-015-3301-y).

Soccer training is not just good for the heart and the muscles. Running around the pitch, jumping, accelerating, braking, and kicking the ball also strengthen the bones.

Even in older men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, playing soccer was proven to strengthen bones, according to the studies from University of Copenhagen scientists in Denmark. These findings are significant as men with prostate cancer have weaker bones due to their disease, which is further compounded by the antihormone treatment given to lower their testosterone levels.

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One adverse effect of hormone treatment is that the bones become decalcified, so their risk of osteoporosis is increased, similar to women going through menopause.

“Football [soccer] training counters many side effects of the treatment. It is impressive to see such big improvements in both muscular strength and bone density, despite the antiandrogen treatment,” said Peter Krustrup, PhD, of Copenhagen University.

Results from the FC Prostate study showed that after 12 weeks of football [soccer] training, leg bone mass increased and the blood-borne bone formation markers osteocalcin and P1NP were increased by 35% and 50%, respectively. After 32 weeks of training, the researchers observed a systematic 1% to 2% increase in bone mineral density at the hip and upper part of the thigh bone in the football [soccer] players compared with the control group, an equivalent to bones in men 2 to 4 years younger, Krustrup explained.

During the training, the players’ movements were tracked precisely with GPS. The measurements show that the players’ average speed was relatively low, but they performed 300 decelerations, 200 accelerations, and 100 running bouts per hour of soccer training. This is believed to be the reason why soccer is better for the bones than jumping on and off a step bench, for example.

“The changes in bone mass in the legs of the football [soccer] group show a significant correlation with the number of times they accelerate and brake. This gives an indication that the effect is linked to the specific activity that we see in football [soccer], where there is interval running with a lot of accelerating and braking, which place great stress on the bone tissue, and that is what makes them stronger,” said lead author and PhD candidate Jacob Uth, of the University of Copenhagen.

“The more the bones are affected from different angles during exercise, the more complete the stimulation. When you change direction, kick, and block the ball, and when you are challenged by an opponent as you are in football [soccer], there is a wide range of powerful stimuli to the bone tissue,” he explained.

In all, the study included 57 men age 43 to 76 years (average age, 67 years) who were receiving treatment for prostate cancer. After drawing lots, the participants were divided into a soccer training group and a control group.

The soccer group trained 2 to 3 times a week for 32 weeks, 45 to 60 minutes at a time. Before starting and after 12 and 32 weeks’ training, both groups were tested with functional tests, blood sampling, and DXA scanning.

Although it is now 2 years since completion of the FC Prostate trial, many of the men are still playing soccer. They meet twice a week in the Copenhagen football [soccer] club Østerbro IF organized under the Danish Football Association (DBU).