MMaking healthy choices doesn’t always have to feel like a chore. Example: One of the best things you can do for your bones is get out a ball and play one of your favorite old schoolyard games, according to a recent study.
Of course, maintaining strong bones is an essential part of healthy aging. As we age, our bones begin break more bones than they build, which causes them to lose density and strength. Over time, if we don’t support our bone health with regular physical activity and nutritious dietwe can develop osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak and brittle bones and increased risk of fracture.
Osteoporosis is considered a “silent disease” since most people don’t realize they have it until they break a bone. Yet it affects about 10 million Americans. What else, about half of all women will break a bone at some point in their life due to osteoporosis.
Luckily, taking care of your bones can be fun. A recent study from Indiana University, published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Sport and exercise medicine and sciencefound that young women who participate in multi-directional sports (eg, football, basketball, volleyball) can develop stronger, healthier bones and end up being less prone to bone injuries as they age. they age, compared to those who do not practice these types of sport.
Why exercise strengthens bones
In the study, researchers used high-resolution imaging to examine the bones of the shins and feet of female collegiate cross-country runners (who frequently experience stress fractures). They found that playing “multi-directional” sports is better for young athletes’ bone health (and helps prevent bone injuries as they age) than running alone. Young women who participated in running and multi-directional sports when they were younger had 10-20% greater bone strength than those who only ran.
According to the researchers, this is because loading your bones in different directions activates bone cells, causing adaptations in different directions and allowing you to develop a more robust skeleton.
Although our bones are always redone, with new bone forming and old bone breaking down, bone mass typically peaks in our mid to late 20s, so we need to take advantage of those early years when new bone formation outpaces breakdown. “It is imperative to optimize their bone health, hence multi-directional sports, as young as possible,” explains Maria Kyriacou, MD, primary care physician in sports medicine at Baptist Health Orthopedic Care in Miami.
You can strengthen your bones at any age
Although this study focused on adolescents, the benefits of playing sports on bone health are not exclusive to adolescents. Running and jumping after a ball can also increase bone strength in adults, even after menopause. “Playing multidirectional sports can help counteract bone mineral density losses in postmenopausal women,” Kyriacou says. Activities like kicking a soccer ball, playing tennis, or playing Frisbee can all be good for your bones.
Plus, weight-bearing activities are also great for bone strength at any age. If your favorite activity is something that isn’t weight-bearing, like swimming or biking, try incorporating weekly cross-training with multi-directional movements to challenge your bones, Kyriacou recommends. “Exercises include jumping jacks, weighted lunges, squats, deadlifts, and push-and-pull exercises,” she says. “These will load up your lumbar spine and hips.”
If you are worried about increasing your risk of acute injury from playing a contact sport like basketball, talk to your doctor. Go slow to start. And then unleash your inner child to enjoy the thrill of healthy (and bone-strengthening) competition.