Did you know that jumping can save you from age-related diseases? It’s that important. Your bone mineral density is a key measure for predicting osteoporosis, and consequential bone fractures. This condition is especially concerning in areas of the hip and vertebrae, where prevalence is high and full recovery is staggeringly low. In the U.S. alone, low bone mass impairs over 43 million people, costing the medical system billions of dollars.
Although awareness of proper nutrition and hormonal implications is increasing in society, I fear we’re abandoning the easiest solution to this problem — weight-bearing activity. Here’s the kicker, we only have an (approximate) 30-year window to build up our bone bank before it closes for business.
This is primary prevention at its finest.
Let’s make time for physical activity when we’re young, so we don’t have to waste it being immobile later on.
If you're more 'mature' than thirty, don't fret. This post is for you too.
Why Weight-Bearing Activities Are So Critical
Your body is a resilient, adaptable organism. If you give it the right stressors, it will respond by becoming stronger. If we’re intentional about doing activities like running, hiking, and jumping (just to name a few), we can directly enhance the connective tissues that support our structural frame.
“Bone remodelling is a dynamic process influenced by a variety of factors, including age, a calcium-rich diet, and the imposed exercise load.” — ‘Advanced Exercise Physiology’
I will save you the complex physiology with a quick analogy. The components of your bony, ligamentous, and cartilaginous tissues form from two major parts. Think of one like rebar (supporting fibers), and the other like a concrete filler (ground substance). You can strengthen this ‘foundation’ until the age of 30. After that, you can only strive to maintain it.
As you can see, a gradual decrease in bone mineral density is inevitable. What we do have control over is how high we build the bank before the decline starts. This is where impact exercise strategies come in (more on this later).
To further the case for weight-bearing activity, one can look to astronauts on the International Space Station. Due to the lack of gravity (and the consequence of zero mechanical impact), calcium is stripped off of bones and muscles atrophy. On an average 6 month trip to the station, astronauts can lose up to 10% of the bone mass in their hips alone. Don’t be like astronauts.
Finally, physical activity can strengthen ligaments and tendons attaching to bone. This can drastically reduce the chance of ruptures and other pathologies of these supporting connective tissues.
While these activities will not guarantee the prevention of osteoporosis, they will certainly give you a fighting chance. Additionally, physical activity will naturally boost other elements of your health, such as cardiovascular capacity and muscle tone, so it’s a win-win.
Practical Tips to Building Your Bank Through Exercise
Although most physical activities can help, we know enough information to get quite intentional with our strategies. You see, impact exercise is site-specific, meaning that the beneficial bone adaptations are unique to those bones undergoing the load during exercise. We must incorporate a well-balanced regime to ensure we’re covering all of the bases. Here are five practical tips for getting the most out of your bones:
Don’t mistake vigorous exercise for high-impact exercise. No, biking or swimming won’t cut it here. This is not to discourage you from doing them, but pursue weight-bearing exercises as well.
Find activities that don’t feel like a chore. This will help you stay motivated and consistent over time. If you hate running, transition to hiking. If you’re bored of lifting weights, skip rope!
Aim for at least one hour of impact exercise per week and spread it out over multiple days.
Ensure you’re balancing impact exercise across the body. Weight lifting, especially in the form of calisthenics, is a great option for the upper body.
Realize that this is only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t neglect proper nutrition, and for goodness sake, don’t smoke.
BONUS: If you’re over thirty, don’t be discouraged! Following these tips will still allow you to maintain your bone health and prevent disease. You just won’t be turning back the hands of time, and that’s ok!
Again, doing these exercises won’t make you bulletproof, but they’ll at least reduce your odds of falling prey to osteoporosis later on. Follow these tips and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with fostering a 'well-oiled machine'.
If you’re serious about weight-bearing activity in your younger years, you can be a hop, skip, and a jump away from avoiding osteoporosis and the debilitating immobility that follows. 43 million people are impaired every day, but you don’t have to be. Strive to implement impact exercise into your daily life, whether it be through walking, dancing, or hiking… the sky’s the limit.
This is a call to every parent, school, and community. We must encourage impact exercise for the younger generations to prevent a multitude of health complications down the road. We’re better people when we’re active, and our bones will be eternally grateful.