A researcher at the University of Saskatchewan believes disorganized play may be one of the keys to building strong bones.

'Encourage kids to play' - Marta Erlandson 

Marta Erlandson is an assistant professor in the College of Kinesiology.

As a former elite athlete, Erlandson has long known that participating in gymnastics as a child helps to build stronger bones.  Erlandson’s research, however, is expanding on that base knowledge.

Her work has revealed that even a basic, recreational level of participation in gymnastics can help children build a stronger skeleton. But Erlandson said the same benefit cannot be found from organized team sports, even at the elite level.  

“Organized sport has become a lot more popular," Erlandson said. "But depending how young they are specializing in certain things, they may not be getting as much of the overall sort of physical activities."

Parents should encourage children to get outside and play

Based on these results, Erlandson’s advice to parents is to get children involved in disorganized sports. Such activities could include good old fashioned fun, like playing on the monkey bars in the park.

"We've definitely seen a decrease in the amount of time that kids are active now that there are things like video games and iPads and things like that," she said. "Just try and encourage kids to play."

Erlandson is now trying to expand her work to find ways of bringing bone building exercise into schools.

Involving children in bone strengthening play when they are young will benefit them later as an adult. Strong bones can help adults avoid fractures and osteoporosis.