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The Ups and Downs of High Impact Exercise

High impact exercise – what is it and why do it? A simple definition would be any activity where your feet leave the ground at the same time. Jumping rope, running, and jumping jacks are high impact exercises. As to why do it, research is now showing that engaging in some higher impact activities may help make a positive contribution to bone health. Past studies have established that paying attention to bone health should begin at an early age, while more current studies are showing evidence that an improvement in bone health can also occur later in life.

Bone density, osteopenia, and osteoporosis are terms we are hearing more frequently. Bones are porous yet sturdy. If porosity increases and bone mass decreases, this can weaken the bones. Osteopenia is the precursor to osteoporosis. If you think of these terms as if they were warnings for a ship at sea, osteopenia would be the indicator that a storm is coming in (some bone loss) and osteoporosis would mean that the storm is already here and you’re in it (high degree of bone loss). Thanks to technology we can now measure bone density, so positive steps can be taken to avoid an alarming outcome such as a fracture. Women are at higher risk than men for bone loss and these groups can also be further sub-divided for risk. This is a simple explanation for bone health; there are many excellent resources for information in print and on the internet.

Exercising is one of the things you can do to help build and maintain healthy bones. Activities for bone health are generally described as weight bearing. Weight bearing exercises put stress on the skeletal structure and your bones react by supporting the stress. Walking and weight lifting fall into this category, but current studies are showing that some higher impact activity can make a more significant contribution to bone health. It makes sense if you think about it – when you lift weights your muscles react by becoming stronger and toned. If you jump up and down, your bones react similarly.

Performing high impact activity can also have other benefits. Some high impact exercises can also improve coordination, agility, balance, and endurance.

Are you a good candidate for high impact exercise? The jarring and intensity of higher impact activities means you need to closely evaluate if it is appropriate for you to start an exercise routine that involves high impact movement. If you are currently diagnosed as having osteopenia or osteoporosis, the risk factors (such as fractures) may outweigh the benefits. Activities that are lower in impact could be more appropriate in this case and a discussion with your physician about an exercise plan is vital. If you have a cardiac condition, an autoimmune disorder, any joint problems, or other medical conditions, consulting your physician before staring a high impact exercise routine should also be considered the first step.

Phew! Sound like all work and no fun? Actually, one of the great things about higher impact exercises is that they are often the activities that we did as children, like jumping rope or hopping up and down. Re-learning some of these skills can take us back to a simpler time, when we moved for fun, not just because it’s “healthy” for us. Mastering high impact activities can also be it’s own reward. Initially the effort, coordination, and intensity make it seem very hard, but when you learn the skills and see improvement in your levels of fitness and health, you’ll be glad you put in the time and effort.

How much high impact activity should you do? This largely depends on you and your current level of health and fitness, but because of the intensity and stress of high impact exercise, short bouts are generally recommended. We live in an all or nothing culture, which is one of the reasons people find it difficult to commit to regular exercise. Adding a high impact activity to your routine doesn’t mean you have to go out and play basketball for two hours everyday. The Surgeon General’s high impact activity recommendation for a healthy population is 50 three-inch jumps per day. I did a little experiment and stood in front of my kitchen clock and jumped 50 times. It took me 30 seconds. Just so I would have something to compare it with, I then timed how long it took me to take my daily vitamin. After I poured the water, opened the bottle, and swallowed the pill, 45 seconds had ticked by. Just 30 seconds per day may increase your chances of having healthier bones.

After you’ve consulted with your physician, talk with a fitness professional about a routine that would work for you. Break out of the cookie cutter mold and tailor a program to really suit your needs. The Surgeon General may say 50 three-inch jumps per day, but depending on your health and fitness level you may not be up to or could be beyond this recommendation. Challenge yourself by going back to the days of your youth. Jump a little rope, do some bunny hops – you may find yourself having fun as you get fitter and healthier!

Jump For Your Health - Jumping Rope is a great aerobic exercise.

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