What was your last experience with a skipping or jumping rope? Chances are it was years ago in the playground — but it might be time to pick it up again.
Studies show that skipping has the potential to increase heart rate, burn calories as well as improve cardiovascular fitness and immunity.
Perhaps even more surprising, it may also increase bone health.
A new study found that skipping for just 20 minutes twice a week significantly improved young women’s bone density, reports the Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism. This study was done on swimmers between 17 and 21 years old.
Researchers have shown that skipping may increase your heart rate and burn calories just as efficiently as running. It can also boost immunity.
Charity organizations such as the Royal Osteoporosis Society encourage bone-healthy practices, including skipping. This is because it reduces the risk of fractures caused by a deficiency in bone density.
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects approximately 3.5 million Britons. It’s particularly prevalent in women who are postmenopausal and have a declining level of the bone-protective hormone, oestrogen.
It is also easy to skip.
‘It is one of those movements that never leaves us,’ says Leon Wormley, a fitness expert and an adviser to the charity Versus Arthritis. ‘Women who haven’t picked up a skipping rope for years take to it like a duck to water. I have clients in their 70s who are skipping.’
The moderate effects of this herb are what make it so beneficial for osteoporosis. They strengthen the bones.
Repeated impact stresses the bone, causing it to ‘remodel’ itself, absorbing old tissue and creating new bone, making it stronger, explains Arj Thiruchelvam, head coach at Performance Physique.
‘It’s similar to when we get cold and shiver to warm ourselves up: the body will react to any form of stimulus and adapt to survive,’ he says. ‘With skipping, the body will say: “Muscle mass isn’t going to be enough on its own,” and the bone itself will start to develop.’
This helps to avoid osteopenia (eroding bone density) as well as osteoporosis.
The effect was demonstrated in numerous studies. This includes a review by researchers from Sheffield University, Hull University in 2010. They found that skipping and jumping could increase bone density in the upper portion of the thigh bone for premenopausal females.
Because it is located near the joint, this area has softer bones and can be susceptible to low bone density.
Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism reported that the study found no evidence of bone growth in normal daily activities.
Separately, as a form of aerobic exercise (which means it provides a cardiovascular workout), skipping stimulates the body’s drainage system (the lymph system), moving fluid from the tissues to the bloodstream, and boosts the immune system by improving blood flow and the circulation of immune cells.
Skipping also ‘activates important muscles in the legs, including the quads, the hamstrings and your glutes [bottom muscles]’, says Mr Wormley.
‘When you skip, you’re upsetting that centre of gravity all the time, so your core stabilising muscles have to work hard to balance your body. That’s good for coordination and concentration.’
While it’s a calorie-burner, too, just how many it uses up has been hotly debated ever since a 1968 study — published in the journal The American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation — included the now oft-quoted claim that ten minutes of skipping is as effective as 30 minutes of jogging for improving fitness.
Although no research has since been able to match these results, it’s generally thought skipping burns roughly the same amount of calories as jogging (around 11.6 to 11.9 calories per minute) in an average-weight person.
‘Measuring energy expenditure is tricky,’ says Richard Blagrove, a lecturer in physiology at Loughborough University.
‘The advantages of skipping are that it is low-cost, doesn’t need much space or many facilities, and benefits both the general public and sports performance athletes.’
Beginners should start slow, skipping for 30 seconds. Then, build to 5 repetitions (30 seconds each), two to three times per week.
‘If you’re not used to skipping, the body responds well to impact exercises, and bone density will improve,’ he says. ‘But you need to keep progressing the load.’
Arj Thiruchelvam agrees, adding: ‘Anyone who has taken up skipping will know it’s hard to coordinate the movement, so it tends to be short bouts of exercise.’
His suggestion is to gradually increase the time until the session lasts 20 minutes. This includes a warm up and cool down. In this way, you will alternate between intense exercises with brief rests at the end.
Once you’ve established a base level of skipping fitness, you could add variety with one-leg skipping, or trying ‘double-unders’, where you whip the rope around twice while your feet are in the air.
These ropes are a result of the evolution from the weaved playground staple (see box).
And in terms of where to skip, choose an area that’s free of obstacles and has a firm surface with a small amount of give, such as wood or a jump-rope mat (these cost from around £45 and are usually made from a strong, durable vinyl to protect you and your rope). Particularly in winter, too much grass may be wet or soft.
Skipping, which is an exercise with medium impact that involves a lot coordination and requires some co-ordination is recommended for anyone suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, or who has fallen in the past.
Osteoporosis is a condition that can lead to bone fractures. Doctors now encourage patients with this condition or any other musculoskeletal issues, like arthritis, to exercise moderately.
The Royal Osteoporosis Society advises around 50 ‘moderate’ impacts — that is, jumping, skipping, jogging or hopping — to most patients for bone- building (although not those with spinal fractures).
The idea of doing this kind of impact workout when you have joint pain might seem counter-intuitive, but as Mr Wormley explains: ‘People’s natural response to pain is to stop exercising. However, arthritis can make it worse if the joint is not moved.
‘If the joint has deteriorated you won’t get it back to the condition it used to be, but maintenance and exercise will keep it mobile by building up the supporting muscle, keeping you independent with a good quality of life.’
Mr Thiruchelvam agrees: ‘GPs used to advise anyone with a knee injury to avoid high-impact exercise, but there’s now a wealth of clinical evidence that says the opposite.
‘We need opportunities to stimulate repair in that area, therefore, high-impact exercise is good, but in small measures. Skipping is a great way to do this.’