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Bone strengthening options for seniors -- power hopping

By Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD

Hopping 100 times a day isn’t for everyone, but I make it part of my routine and have recommended it for years for those who are able. So imagine how enthusiastic I was that British researchers have "powered-up" simple hopping for remarkable hip-building benefits — and this was among seniors with the average age of 70.

While modest gains were noted by the standard bone density tests, special 3D bone strength mapping revealed remarkable gains:

These impressive results were obtained by 70-year-old men who would normally experience aging bone loss each year. The gains were from the impact with each hop delivering 2.7 to 3 times body weight ground resistance force (this indicates a significant enough hop to produce an impact of 2-3 times one’s body weight). While the study was done with men, I seen no reason why women would not achieve the same gains from brief single-legged daily hopping. Furthermore, I suspect one would obtain substantial benefits from one legged hopping even if they did not reach the high impact level used in this study.

Here's their simple hopping program:

• Over the course of several weeks, participants worked up to 50 single-legged hops a day

• They hopped on the same leg each day

• As they gained strength, the hops became multidirectional (10 up and down vertical, 10 to the front, 10 back, 10 each to right and left sides)

• At the year's end hip cortical mass and trabecular density had increase substantially in both legs with greatest gains accrued in the hopping leg.

Granted, these powered-up hops are not for everyone, but if you are feeling fit and decide to dial up your daily hopping routine, keep in mind these guidelines from the study:

• Warm up before each session

• Begin with very low hops and jump higher as you can over the weeks

• Start with just a few one-legged hops a day and work up to 5 sets of 10 hops at a time

• Resting between sets at least 15 seconds, walking in place a bit

• Hold a chair for balance if necessary

• As you get stronger make the hops multidirectional. This multi-directionality loads and strengthens different parts of the hip

• As you gain strength, hop as high and as fast as you can

Let me know your thoughts and your plan to keep hopping one way or another.

 

References:

Alison, Sarah. The influence the Hip-Hop of exercise on 3D distribution of cortical and a trabecular bone across the proximal femur: The Hip-Hop Study. ASBMR Abstract 1013, 2014 Annual Meeting, Houston, Tx Sept. 12, 2104.

Allison, Sarah. High impact exercise increased femoral neck bone mineral density in older men: A randomized unilateral intervention. Bone, 53 (2013):321-328.

 


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We created the Better Bones blog as our forum to express opinions and educate the public about natural means of supporting and improving bone health and overall wellness. As part of this forum, we sometimes discuss medical issues and medications, and their effects on bone health in general. However, we cannot advise readers about specific medical issues in this forum. If you wish to obtain advice from Susan E. Brown, PhD, about your specific bone health and nutritional concerns, please visit our Consultations page. Other specific medical questions should be referred to your healthcare provider.

Comments

March 10. 2015 11:44

Thank you for this very interesting research and sounding-like-easy way to strengthen and gain bone mass. I will attempt to incorporate into my simple routine, which is mostly climbing and walking with my 85-lb dog in the forest for up to two hours a day. I am in my early 60s and in very good health but am certainly interested in strengthening and gaining bone mass as I age. Hopping is not as easy as it sounds!

Myokyo

March 10. 2015 12:35

This is very interesting.  Do you know if shoes can be worn while hopping?  

Jan-Marie Gendlin

March 10. 2015 13:53

I have been doing some hopping and jumping and appreciate this regimen.  From my experience, I would suggest shoes SHOULD be worn for this.  When I started, I was having some heel issues, but eventually that went away.  I couldn't overdo it at first, so my advice is start slowly and yes to shoes.

Grace

March 10. 2015 13:58

Another thought.........Margaret Martin in Ottawa, whose specialty is exercise for bones, suggests distributing this kind of exercise across the day.  She says every time you jump or hop, you send a signal to the bones to develop.  So if you do even 2 or 3 sessions of hopping, your body gets the message 2 or 3 times.  If you do it once, you body gets the message once.  She says you want your body to feel like it just never knows what to expect from you, so it better be ready for anything.

Grace

March 10. 2015 14:14

The first time rope-skipping article was e-mailed I thought I would try at jumping in a swimming pool and of course to do some jumping-jacks.  It is nice and I am barefoot.

Reading these posts today 10 Mar, I like this topic and the post about making your body "ready for anything."

Thanks from PST zone!

MT

March 10. 2015 14:23

Another comment on "As they gained strength, the hops became multidirectional (10 up and down vertical, 10 to the front, 10 back, 10 each to right and left sides)"

So standing still and hopping 10 times on each leg--easy.  Then hop with your posture slightly forward and then backward 10 times per leg.  Then hop from side to side for 10 per leg.  Right?

MT

March 10. 2015 16:20

this makes sense for the hips.  what about the spine?  the spine must gain some benefit.  i practice irish dance - lots of hopping:)

Mary

March 10. 2015 19:49

Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone! It is so heartening to read how willing and open you are to engage in something new. In answer to some of the questions:

@Jan-Marie: yes, wearing sneakers can be helpful when hopping, especially when hopping on hard surfaces. As @Grace shared, it may be essential for those with knee issues. Listen to your body.

@MT: yes, to the directions on these. Thanks!  

@Mary: Interesting question! Hopping is such a great whole-body exercise. We hope more research comes out on bone benefits, including spinal.

- Jacqueline
BB Blog Admin

Blog Admin

March 10. 2015 23:23

Hi Jacqueline, I've recently started using a rebounder. I bounce 300 times, and I do shift from leg to leg for part of the time. Hopping is too painful for me because I apparently don't have much padding in my heels any longer and I have fibroids in my arches. Do you think bouncing on the rebounder will give me the same bone building benefits?

Heather

March 11. 2015 03:36

Hi Is it good to start hopping if you have varicous veins?

Irene

March 11. 2015 04:36

I've just been diagnosed with osteopenia so I'm excited to read this post. I'll give it a go. I'm also interested in the answer to the rebounder question as I'm recovering from a leg fracture and my physiotherapist suggested one of these. Thanks

Jan

March 11. 2015 05:33

I'd be a little concerned for those of us who have already suffered a spinal compression fracture due to osteoporosis , or those are at risk of fracture from a fall due to the hopping. Just a few thoughts of caution on my part.

Deborah

March 11. 2015 07:50

I use a BOSU ball, $109, Amazon for hopping. Safer on joints; also cleans lymphatic system (less cancer issues). Place next to door on floor, hold on to top of door to do jumping mildly. I do 400-500 daily effortlessly.

Gerard DeWind

March 11. 2015 13:18

Hi all! Dr. Brown has some more responses to pass along to these great questions about hopping!

@Heather & Jan: A rebounder is a wonderful exercise to increase circulation, but it does not provide the impact that is necessary to stimulate bone. In fact, the rebounder is meant to limit the impact and make the contact softer. It still great exercise to do though, so keep it up!

To anyone looking for a hopping alternative: Also know that when walking downstairs, weight when we put on our legs as we step down the stairs, actually increases bone so even if you can hop you can walk down the stairs consciously and perhaps with a little bit of extra force.

@MT: Hopping, especially one leg hopping, is really for the hearty. In the study I mentioned, they trained a long time before building up to the 50 hops day. You can also do a small hop or a bigger hop, or you could even do heel drops which offers another impact to the hip.

@Deborah: Try to do everything to uncover the cause of bone weakening. I discuss in detail the medical osteoporosis workup that should be done if one has fractured -- you can find this in my site under bone health articles, medical testing: http://www.betterbones.com/osteoporosis/whoneedstestsforosteoporosis.aspx.   So if you suffered a spinal fracture this probably isn't the exercise for you and it's good to talk with your physical therapist about which exercise might help you strengthen your spine as well as the hip.

@Irene: I suspect you can hop even if you have varicose veins, but if anything is painful you shouldn't do it.

One leg at hopping is surely not for everyone, but let us know what happens if you give it a go, or commit to another bone-strengthening exercise. Thank you so much for making this bone health community so much fun.  

Love, Susan

Blog Admin

March 11. 2015 15:06

Gerald -
The BOSU is great for developing balance coordination, but jumping mildly on it will not give the same impact as hopping, so probably will not provide the stimulation to increase bone density.

Joe

March 11. 2015 16:13

Thanks for the tip about the BOSU ball.  I have used one in the past but never considered it for jumping.  I suffer from plantar fascitis, heel spurs and fibroids in my feet so I am limited with any kind of jumping.  I am 57 yrs. old and I enjoy partner dancing but with my feet problems, I haven't been able to do much dancing because it causes me pain. Low impact work outs, elliptical machine and bicycle riding is what I have been doing for cardio.

Sheri Wright

March 11. 2015 17:02

I started running a few years ago to try to strengthen my bone.  
Does running have an effect similar to hopping?

Bonnie

March 11. 2015 17:51

I don't understand what one legged hopping is. Holding one foot/leg off the ground and hopping with the other leg?

g

March 12. 2015 16:13

Just to be clear. I only need to do one leg hopping on one leg and no need to alternate? My Dexa was worse and I need something more!

Penny Lisowski

March 15. 2015 20:02

@G: Good question! Hopping on one leg is when you stand on one leg, with the other leg up, and you hop on the one leg you are standing on. Best wishes!

- Susan Brown

Susan Brown

March 15. 2015 20:12

Hi Bonnie,

Thank you for the question! Susan passed along the following response...

Running does transmit a substantial impact, and it's a great exercise if you enjoy it. However, one-legged hopping can provide a little higher impact. Keep running and have fun, and maybe hop a bit between runs.

Best wishes!
- Susan

Blog Admin

March 15. 2015 20:12

Hi Penny, yes, the participants in the study started out hopping on one leg only - most people have a leg they favor, either left or right. As they gained strength, they then began adding more variety, including alternating legs. Hope this helps!

Jacqueline
BB Blog Admin  

Blog Admin

March 16. 2015 21:39

Would jumping rope 100 times each day have the same benefit?

Gail

March 17. 2015 11:13

Hi Gail,

Jumping rope is a nice high impact exercise. While it is possible jump rope with just one leg, I don't think it would be a safe option for most people due to the tripping hazard. If you enjoy jumping rope, continue to do so. As a high impact exercise, it too can provide benefits for bone health. Thank you for your question! Best wishes, Susan

Susan Brown

March 21. 2015 11:28

This all sounds great and even fun but for those of us with disc problems, collapsing discs and compression, hopping (jumping rope, etc.) is out of the question.  As is running.  I walk and do other exercises to help strengthen my bones to include Tai Chi.  Caution needs to be exercised here.

Kathleen

March 24. 2015 19:25

I can't hop very long because of my knees.  Instead I lift my heels and drop them.
Is that what you called a heel drop?  I hope so cause you said it is nearly as effective.

Irene

April 1. 2015 09:21

Specifically what type of shoes should be worn for this exercise: running, cross-training or walking shoes?

Thank you.

Diane

April 2. 2015 10:22

Hi Diane,

Personally, I would not worry so much about the type of athletic shoe -- I would go with which pair felt the best on my feet and gave me most comfort.

Best wishes,
Susan Brown

Susan Brown

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