A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Building strong bones starts in childhood

Woman texting during her run - Building strong bones while you're young

An active lifestyle is important to maintaining strong bones.

When kids, teenagers or young adults think about osteoporosis, they probably imagine an illness that affects people later in life, perhaps middle age and beyond. While it’s true osteoporosis typically doesn’t show up in terms of symptoms until later in life, the seeds of the disease are planted early in life.

Dr. Allyson Mayeux, internal medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System, said it’s important for children to develop good bone-building habits early in life.

“In areas like Wisconsin where Marshfield Clinic Health System is based, we have naturally low Vitamin D levels. If you’re Vitamin D deficient, that can be a cause of losing bone mass and eventually osteoporosis,” Mayeux said. “That’s just one example, but the point is young people should be aware that they need to work to maintain healthy bones early in life and throughout life.”

Get enough calcium and keep moving

Mayeux added that parents should make sure their kids are getting enough calcium in their diets. She added that if you are avoiding dairy products, other good sources of calcium include almond milk, almonds, and many kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Mayeux said that an active lifestyle also is important to maintaining strong bones.

“A sedentary lifestyle is not good for bone health,” she said. “Running, jumping, playing sports, any kind of weight-bearing exercise will help keep bones strong. Find a physical activity you like, it doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s weight-bearing.”

Drop the energy drinks

Mayeux also warns against over-indulging in energy drinks, which have become increasingly popular, especially for teens and young adults.

“That is substituting good, healthy, calcium-rich food for an energy drink that really has no health benefit,” Mayeux said. “Those drinks may not directly harm bone health, but if you’re drinking a lot of them in place of other, healthier options, you may be planting the seeds for bad bone health. Energy drinks instead of healthier options may be contributing to obesity and diabetes, both of which can increase osteoporosis risk.”

Fill up the piggy bank

The body builds up storage of calcium until about age 30, and then as you age past that point, your calcium level starts to drop.

You’re kind of filling up the calcium piggy bank when you’re young, and then as you age and your calcium drops, you hope you have enough in that piggy bank to keep your bones healthy,” Mayeux said. “That’s why young people need to be so aware of their diet.”

Mayeux said if you have a family history of osteoporosis, you may be more likely to develop the disease. She added that Asian women in particular are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis as are women who are of smaller stature with thin bones. Women in general are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

If you have questions about your bone health, talk with your provider.

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