SCIENCE FRIDAY: PLAY LIKE A KID
SKIP, HOP, AND BOUND, AND HIT THE PLAYGROUND FOR STRONG BONES
Last week's post (June 22, 2017) introduced FORM DRILLS as a way to become stronger and more efficient at running, just like elites who perform them before speed workouts and races. Earned Runs found that another benefit of running FORM DRILLS is improved BONE HEALTH AND STRENGTH.
The type of movement and impact involved in form drills has been recommended for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis (a medical condition in which bones are fragile and prone to fracture) in a position statement by the Exercise and Sport Science Australia (ESSA) published in 2016, written by Dr. Belinda R. Beck and her colleagues, who are from various Australian universities.
The statement explains that not all exercise activity is osteogenic (helps to build bones). Exercise movements that lead to increases in bone mass density (BMD), a measure of bone strength, has certain qualities; it should be:
- Dynamic not static
- Cyclic rather than continuous
- Able to induce relatively high bone strain
- Rapidly applied
- Performed with limited repetitions
One exercise mode, IMPACT LOADING, prescribed for individuals with both NORMAL and LOW BMD (osteopenia and osteoporosis) was detailed as: "vertical and multi-directional jumping, bounding, hopping, skipping rope, drop jumps, and bench stepping".
These are the SAME movements that are incorporated into running FORM DRILLS, which allow them to double as bone building exercises! Especially if the number of repetitions is kept relatively low, and if several different drills are consistently performed each week, exactly what trainers and coaches recommend.
BALANCE TRAINING is another exercise mode recommended by the position paper to improve bone health. Routines that incorporate backward walking/running, leg crossovers, and lateral/sideways movements are the most bone-friendly and are also part of the FORM DRILLS described in the Brian Metzler Competitor.com piece (grapevines, lateral bounding, running backward).
Resistance training (strength training), is also recommended, in the ESSA position statement and is a regular part of Earned Runs running training plans.
Why should runners or walkers be interested in doing anything else but running/walking for bone strength? Isn’t running a weight-bearing, high-impact activity? Yes. But according to the position paper and previous research, running in a continuous, unidirectional manner results in the desensitization of bone cells to the stimulating effects of impacts. Skeletal bones stop responding and adapting to movement once it becomes “customary”.*
The authors of this paper have provided a “tip” to help us remember the best types of activity for building bone. YAY! They say that exercises which are “appropriate to build bone in childhood mirror those that are most effective in adulthood (high impact, weight-bearing activities that engage large muscle groups).“
In non-science-speak, this means it’s KID-PLAY, the stop-and-go and multi-directional type of running, skipping, hopping, jumping, and darting about that stimulates the skeleton to develop. Little ones quickly expend lots of explosive energy in this kind of play, tire, rest for a bit, then play more. They tend not to run continuously for an hour or more, as adults do. This is how to successfully build (and strengthen) bones!
So, why don’t doctors prescribe kid-play for adults? Unfortunately, after decades of not playing like kids, adults have developed asymmetric muscle weaknesses, joint and mobility issues, poor balance, and other health problems, making this kind medical prescription impractical and possibly unsafe.
Are adults left with working to complete a list of physical therapy exercises?
No. Think about it. FORM DRILLS FORCE US TO PLAY LIKE KIDS!!! HOW GREAT IS THAT? Not only do they help us be better, faster, straight-line runners, they help us maintain and possibly re-build bones and muscles weakened by too many years of playing like adults. SKIPPING, BOUNDING, SHUFFLING, RUNNING BACKWARDS, DOING “GRAPEVINES’. Form drills ARE kid-play.
There is another way to stay in Neverland when it comes to child-like exercise: play games. The position paper says. “Cross-sectional studies consistently demonstrate that athletes engaged in high- or unusual-impact weight-bearing sports with rapid rates of loading such as gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, ballet dancing, football, power lifting, tennis/squash, and figure skating have superior bone mass at loaded skeletal sites compared to non-athletes or athletes in non-weight-bearing or lower-impact sports.”
In other words, the playground sports we enjoyed in youth are better for musculoskeletal health than plain running or walking. Congratulations to runners and others who still have fun on courts, dance floors, ice rinks, maybe even monkey-bars. Included in this group of activities are aerobics and dance classes.
I like the idea of trying to recapture some of the fun of childhood to build bone and muscle strength. I like that I’m encouraged to try other sports and routines, like FORM DRILLS, that elite runners perform. What will you do to return to childhood for health?
NOTE: A previous post presented information from scientific literature that interval and downhill running were beneficial to bone health. You can still enjoy ‘unidirectional’ running as your sport, if you mix-in these other sessions.
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BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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