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You’re probably not worried about your bones. Osteoporosis and broken hips only affect men decades older than you, right?
But you should be concerned, because it’s what you do now that could determine whether you’ll become an old guy with a broken hip in the year 2060.
Your bones typically gain mass until sometime in your 30s, and then start to lose mass gradually as part of the aging process, according to the National Institutes of Health. Eventually, your bones can grow weak and prone to fracture.
But exercise can help prevent that from happening, research suggests.
Scientists from the University of Missouri recently studied the bone density of men who were 30 to 65 years old.
The men who had done high-impact exercise or resistance training throughout their lives had higher bone density—one component of bone strength—than less active men.
Here’s why: Your bones are constantly rebuilding themselves, says study author Pamela Hinton, Ph.D. When you apply a force to your bones—caused by impact during activities like running and jumping—they adapt and become stronger, she says.
Even resistance training can create impact: When your muscles contract to lift weights, they actually pull on your bones with a lot of force, Hinton says.
Your bone cells sense those forces, and in response, send signals to build more bone, she explains. As a result, you can slow the natural loss of bone mass that occurs with age—or even reverse the process and add mass in adulthood, she says.
It doesn’t take much running, jumping, or weight lifting to make your bones adapt, Hinton says.
Simply jumping rope for 50 hops, sprinting for 100 paces, doing one upper-body circuit, or playing a few minutes of pickup basketball two to three times per week will probably do the trick.
If you have joint or mobility problems that prevent you from safely running or jumping, skip the impact and just do resistance training, she says.
Bonus: Stronger muscles will help you stay active and coordinated as you age, making you less likely to fall, which is one of the major causes of fractures in older adults.