It’s not news that exercise is good for bones. But many people hear the word “exercise” as being synonymous with “chore” — well, I’ve got another synonym instead:
Have you ever seen a little boy jump in a puddle? It’s not a quick hop or a gentle tap with a toe — it’s a hard stomp or a two-legged, I’m-a-rocket-ship splashdown, ending with the child covered in muddy water, grinning ear-to-ear. But what you may not see is that the child has triggered a chain reaction in his bones simply by jumping in the puddle. He has just sent a signal to his bones that it’s time to build.
You see, bone responds to the forces applied to it, and those include both the force generated by muscles and tendons tugging on bone, as well as the impact that reverberates through the bones when we jump or run or hop or any action that causes our skeleton to smack into something. Bone and muscle work as a single unit, so any time you use a muscle, you’re stimulating your bones. Just as with muscles, the most effective bone-building exercise programs are progressive, increasing in intensity over time. Better still, the effects of exercise on bone are site-specific, which means you can work particular muscles to strengthen particular bones — very useful if you’ve had a fracture, or if you’ve been told you have osteopenia in your hip or wrist.
This means that you don’t have to force yourself into a high-intensity workout regimen you don’t really enjoy, just because you want to strengthen your bones. Instead, you can start with something simple, even playful — hopscotch, jumping rope, tap dancing, or even playing tug-of-war with a dog. In short, you have permission to have fun!
And that’s what’s most interesting about our boy and his puddle — because the sheer joy and pleasure of physical play also support bone health. Having fun translates into a multitude of positive responses throughout the body — chemicals in the brain, relaxation in the muscles, lower stress, and yes, better bones. I think many of us forget what it feels like to be a kid as we grow older, and to my mind, that’s one of the biggest barriers we have to doing all the things that make our bones stronger, including (especially!) exercising. I blame the fact that it’s called “working out” — most of us have all the “work” we want already, so who wants more?
So how about this: I’m not going to suggest you go work out if you want better bones. Instead, I have only two words for you: