Brief, daily bouts of hopping or jumping can strengthen hip bones and reduce the risk of fracture following a fall, suggests a new study of older men.

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The participants did the hopping with variations in movement, so the hip bone experienced stresses and strains in different directions.
Image credit: Loughborough University

Bones get thinner with age. In the hip bones, this causes localized thinning, which is linked to higher risk of fracture.

The Hip Hop study from Loughborough University in the UK shows that regular high impact exercise can help counteract the effect of aging to the bone.

Published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the study measured the effect of short bouts of daily hopping on bone density.

The researchers invited 34 men over the age of 65 to hop for 2 minutes a day for one year. The men hopped only on one leg, so the other leg could be used for comparison.

Bone mass increased by up to 7% in parts of the exercised hip's outer shell or cortex. The results also showed increases in the density of the layer of spongy bone under the cortex.

These effects were also seen in the thinnest areas of the hip bone - the parts that are most likely to suffer a fracture during a fall.

The findings could help to prevent and manage osteoporosis, a disease that is responsible for more than 8.9 million fractures worldwide every year, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

Exercises incorporated movements in different directions

First author Dr. Sarah Allison, from Loughborough's National Center for Sport and Exercise Medicine, says:

"Hip fractures are a major public health concern among older adults, incurring both high economic and social costs. Those affected suffer pain, loss of mobility and independence, and increased risk of death."

Fast facts about osteoporosis
  • Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will 1 in 5 men aged over 50
  • Although women are more likely to suffer osteoporosis-related fractures, men generally have higher rates of death linked to fractures
  • By 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fracture in men is projected to increase by 310% and in women by 240%.

Learn more about osteoporosis

"We know exercise can improve bone strength," she adds, "and so we wanted to test a form of exercise that is both easy and quick for people to achieve in their homes."

The participants were shown how to do the hopping exercise with variations in movement, so that the hip bone experienced stresses and strains in different directions.

Hopping was the focus of the investigation as opposed to other forms of high impact exercise such as jumping or skipping because the researchers could then compare the results between the exercised hip and the non-exercised hip.

The measurements were made with new bone mapping techniques based on CT scans that were developed at the University of Cambridge, also in the UK. These showed clear differences between the exercised and non-exercised hips.

As the participants were all men, the researchers cannot say if the same results would be achieved in women. Also, it is important to note that the participants did not have osteoporosis, so it is not possible to say if the exercises would be safe for people with this condition. These are among the important questions that further research needs to answer.

Senior author Dr. Katherine Brooke-Wavell, lead researcher at Loughborough, notes that all their participants were screened and were taught how to build up the exercises gradually. She says it is important to take up such exercise carefully, as someone with weak bones could suffer a fracture if they fall. Given these cautions, she concludes:

"However, over time, our study shows that brief hopping or jumping exercises that target specific regions of the hip, could increase bone strength and reduce the chances of hip fracture."

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned of a study that shows bone fractures may not heal the way we thought. Current thinking maintains that fibrin plays an important role in bone fracture healing. However, the new research suggests it is not the presence but the breakdown of the blood-clotting protein that is essential for fracture repair.