No bones about it: Growing up healthy

You want your child to grow up healthy and strong. That starts with a good foundation — strong bones.

Building healthy bones probably isn’t at the top of your list of to-dos. But the habits your child establishes in childhood can help prevent fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being built and broken down. Think of the body’s bone structure as a bank. The vast majority of bone tissue is built up (or deposited) during childhood and adolescence.

Starting at that point, more bone tissue is “withdrawn” than deposited. So healthy habits in childhood can help build healthy bones for life!

Bone building 101

The process of building healthy bones has three important components: Kids need to eat a bone-building diet, get regular physical activity and avoid bone loss.

  1. Eat a bone-building diet. What’s in a bone-building diet, you ask? There are two main building blocks of bones—calcium, which you’re probably familiar with, and collagen.

The amount of calcium kids should have each day changes as they grow. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements offers age-specific guidelines.

Milk and other dairy products are the main sources of calcium in the United States. However, there are plenty of other sources of calcium. Fill up your child’s plate with green vegetables, including kale and broccoli, along with foods and drinks fortified with calcium.

For the best calcium absorption, be sure your child also gets plenty of vitamin D through foods, dietary supplements or exposure to the sun (with sunscreen).

Collagen is also important in bone growth. To incorporate collagen in your child’s diet, include foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.

  1. Get plenty of physical activity. When it comes to healthy bones, getting out and active is just as important as a healthy diet.

Young children up to age 6 should actively play several times a day. For older children and teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends they get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

When it comes to bone development, weight-bearing activities are the most effective. Encourage your kids to walk, dance, play sports, jump rope or do other activities that keep them on their feet. The best way to get them active? Participate with them!

  1. Avoid bone loss. So now you know the two components of building healthy bones. But you also want to avoid things that cause bone loss.

While some bone breakdown is normal, you want to minimize it as much as possible. Some substances weaken bones. Limit the amount of sodium and caffeine in your child’s diet, which can cause bones to lose calcium at a higher rate, and include non-animal sources of protein at least occasionally. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause bone loss.

As part of regular checkups, your child’s doctor will check his or her development. Don’t have a doctor? Find one here.