MMaking healthy choices doesn’t always feel like a chore. Case in point: One of the best things you can do for your bones is break out a ball and play one of your favorite old school yard games, according to a recent study.

Of course, maintaining strong bones is an important component of healthy aging. As we age, our bones begin to break down more than they form, causing them to lose density and strength. Over time, if we don’t support our bone health through regular exercise and a nutritious diet, we can develop osteoporosis, a disease that causes weak, brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures.

Osteoporosis is considered a “silent disease” because most people don’t realize they have it until they break a bone. Yet it affects an estimated 10 million Americans. What’s more, nearly half of all women will break a bone at some point in their lives due to osteoporosis.

Fortunately, taking good care of your bones can actually be fun. A recent study from Indiana University published in the American College of Sports Medicine Medicine and Science in Sports and ExerciseIt has been shown that young women who participate in multi-sport sports (eg, soccer, basketball, volleyball) develop stronger, healthier bones and are less prone to bone-related injuries as they age, compared to those who do not play these types of sports.

Why sports make bones stronger

In the study, researchers used high-resolution imaging to examine the shin and foot bones of female collegiate cross-country runners (who often experience stress fractures). They found that playing “multitasking” sports was better for young athletes’ bone health—and helped prevent bone-related injuries as they age—than running alone. Young women who ran and participated in multi-sport sports at a young age had 10 to 20 percent greater bone strength than those who only ran.

According to researchers, this is because loading your bones in different directions activates bone cells, which in turn adapt in different directions and allow you to build a stronger skeleton.

Although our bones are always being rebuilt, new bone is formed and old bone is broken down, bone mass usually peaks in our mid-to-late 20s, so we need to take advantage of those early years when the rate of new bone formation breaks down. “It’s imperative that we optimize their bone health, so multitasking, as young as possible,” says Maria Kyriako, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician at Baptist Health Orthopedic Care in Miami.

You can strengthen your bones at any age

Although this study focused on teenagers, the bone health benefits of sports aren’t just for teens. Running around and jumping after a ball can increase bone strength in adults—even after menopause. “Playing multidirectional sports can help prevent loss of bone mineral density for post-menopausal women,” says Kyriakou. Activities like kicking a soccer ball around, playing tennis, or playing Frisbee can benefit your bones.

Additionally, weight bearing activities are excellent for bone strength at any age. If your go-to activity is something that doesn’t bear weight, like swimming or cycling, try incorporating weekly cross-training with multi-purpose movements to stimulate your bones, Kyriacou recommends. “Exercises include jumping, weighted lunges, squats, deadlifts and push-and-pull exercises,” she says. “These will load your lumbar spine and hips.”

If you are worried increasing Talk to your doctor about your risk of acute injury by taking up a contact sport like basketball. Take it slow to start. And then let your inner child enjoy the thrill of healthy (and bone-building) competition.

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