A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Kids’ exercise: The key to building better bones

Badge with girl jumping with strong bonesEditor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles dedicated to celebrating the month of May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.  Next week: Make exercise more fun with family

Did you know playing on the jungle gym can benefit your child’s bone health for his or her whole life?

Amazing, right?

When kids exercise, it helps build strong bones. Better bone density can fend off osteoporosis and prevent fractures later in life, said Dr. Jacob Lonsdale, a nonoperative pediatric orthopedist at Marshfield Clinic.

“We achieve 80 to 90 percent of our bone density by age 18,” he said. “Childhood and pre-adolescence are the most active bone density building years and impact your bone health for the rest of your life.”

Make kids’ exercise fun

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend kids exercise 60 minutes a day, but that doesn’t mean they need to take an hour-long walk or lift weights.

Running, jumping and body weight resistance from playing and sports builds bone strength.

“The best kind of activity is one your child enjoys and that can be done without a lot of equipment and space needs,” Lonsdale said. “For younger kids, that’s probably tag or climbing on the jungle gym. As kids get older, it’s more organized sports.”

Nutrition for growing bones

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important for bone growth.

Low-fat dairy, white beans, broccoli, kale, spinach and leafy green vegetables are great calcium sources.

Kids younger than 10 should get 700-1,000 mg of calcium daily, or about three to four 8-ounce glasses of milk a day. About 1,300 mg of calcium is recommended for older kids.

Three to five minutes of sun exposure to the arms and legs three times a week is enough for your body to produce the vitamin D it needs. A vitamin D supplement is helpful for people who live in regions that don’t get a lot of sunlight year round.

Develop healthful habits

Besides promoting bone growth, exercise and eating a balanced diet will help kids develop healthful habits they’ll continue as adults.

Eating right, exercising and avoiding tobacco and alcohol as an adult can help maintain bone density as we age.

Check out the other posts in our May fitness series

Week 1: Balance-building exercises for fall prevention

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