It has been known since the 1800s that putting an unusual load on bone sends a signal for bone to grow stronger. It is as if upon noting high impact, the body says to the bone, “You need to be stronger because heavy loads are coming.” We see this signaling through the impact of exercises which are site specific. Right-armed tennis players have stronger right arms; if you hop on one leg you will build strength in that leg; wearing a weighted vest distributes loads on the hips equally, thus strengthening both hips, and so on. The ground-breaking study I detail here is about building bone strength by hopping, and for premenopausal and postmenopausal women interested in strengthening bone it’s hopping good news!
As early as 1994, British researchers documented that premenopausal women could build bone density with a jumping program. Specifically, women gained more than 4% in hip trochanteric bone density by doing 50 jumps per day over a 6-month period. Then again in 2010, premenopausal women were shown to gain hip bone density with a similar jumping program.
Buoyed by these successes, researchers went on to see if postmenopausal women could build bone density by jumping. Unfortunately, the answer was no. The same researchers who found success with jumping exercise in premenopausal women reported that jumping did not build bone density in postmenopausal women. Fortunately, future research proved otherwise.
After the failed postmenopausal jumping research, it was assumed that older folks could not build bone with a jumping exercise. This was accepted until 2013, when another set of British researchers tested if older men could build bone density with single leg hopping. It was found to be successful. Seventy-year-old men built impressive bone strength doing 50 one-legged hops a day. As you read my blog on this hopping study of older men (includes video) , you will note that I speculated that older women would obtain the same benefit with this hopping protocol. In fact, this hypothesis has already been tested. Seven years following the hopping study of older men, British researchers have proven for the first time that indeed older women can also safely build strength with one legged hopping.
Here are the details of this ground-breaking study on women ages 55 to 70:
- The clinical trial tested for changes in the bone mineral density and bone mineral content, bone bending strength, and cartilage health markers.
- Before hopping, there was a 5-minute stretching warm-up.
- Study subjects began with very few single-leg vertical hops per day and over time worked up to 50 hops per day for a total hopping time of 3-4 minutes.
- Hops were progressively increased to reach 5 sets of 10 hops.
- 15-second rests were taken between each set of hops.
- By week 6, the women were hopping in all four directions; front, back, and both sides. The rotational hopping stimulated different parts of the hip.
- After 6 months, changes in the hopping leg were compared to those in the control leg (no hopping on this leg).
The postmenopausal women achieved gains in bone strength, bone density, and bone mineral content in the hopping leg (the leg that was “loaded”).
- Bone strength increased 3.18% in the hopping leg, while bone strength decreased in the control leg.
- Hip-neck bone density increased in the exercised leg while it decreased in the control leg.
- The bone mineral content also increased in the hopping leg, but decreased in the control leg.
This high-impact hopping exercise was safe on the knee joint
This high-impact bone building exercise resulted in no detrimental effects to the cartilage, nor was there progression of osteoarthritis in these older women. In fact, some spontaneous resolution of cartilage issues was found in the exercise leg and in the control leg.
My own experience
I was on an airplane flight in 2013 when I first read about the successful hopping study in men. Instinctively knowing that this should also work for women, I immediately began to do 50 vigorous one-legged hops after I exited the plane. I did these without warming up or working up to this number hops. While not dangerous, doing 50 hops without working up to it or warming up did irritate the muscles in my leg, forcing me to rest the leg before doing more hopping. Later, I did the suggested warm-up stretching and worked up to the full 50 hops, although I never did do adequate rest between sets of hops. However, based on my own positive experience with one-legged hopping, I suggest you try hopping (but the way the study describes!).
Who should not practice hopping?
High-impact hopping exercise is not for everyone as seen by the various groups of women excluded from the study. Those not allowed in the study included “women being eligible for pharmacological treatment for osteoporosis according to national guidance,” women who have had medical conditions restricting this sort of exercise, those with hip or back injuries, women taking bone medications, and a few others.
If you are thinking of trying a hopping program, please contact your physician, health consultant, or physical therapist to see if it suits you. Should you not be interested in hopping, there are many ways to safely load your bones. I suggest you look at our Exercise Evolution Channel for more ideas and guidelines.