Bone health is important for everyone. Problems with bone health can occur in anybody and it’s important for everyone to keep their bone health at the best possible level they can. While milk does the body good, kids also need exercise to keep their bones healthy.

Why kids need calcium

Calcium helps to increase bone mass in kids, and more bone mass means less risk of fractures. Additionally, calcium intake in childhood can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis, a skeletal system disease characterized by low bone mass and bone tissue deterioration. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), growing bones absorb the most calcium from the blood during the teenage years.

Kids 1 to 3 years old need 700 mg of calcium a day, kids 4 to 8 years old need 1,000 mg of calcium a day and kids and teens 9 to 18 years old need 1,300 mg of calcium a day. Luckily, calcium can be found in places other than milk, such as:

  • Dairy products – low fat or nonfat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Dark green leafy vegetables – bok choy, broccoli, kale, mustard greens
  • Tofu – if processed with calcium sulfate
  • Calcium-fortified juice, bread, and cereal

However, keeping bones healthy requires more than calcium intake. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which is also important for healthy bones. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends supplementing calcium intake with 400 IU of Vitamin D, usually in the form of chewable vitamins.

Healthy bones and exercise

Weight-bearing activities — like running and jumping — are the most important types of exercises for building healthy bones. These weight-bearing activities help kids’ bodies reach peak bone mass. Children should participate in 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Here are some other examples of weight-bearing activities:

  • Tennis or racquetball
  • Field hockey
  • Stair climbing
  • Jumping rope
  • Basketball
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Soccer

Many physical activities can help children’s bones grow strong; however, there are some things that are detrimental to bone growth. Children should cut down on fast and processed food intake because of the amount of salt in these foods. According to the AAP, a diet high in salt may deprive the body of calcium by increasing the amount excreted in the urine. Also, stay away from alcohol and cigarettes as both can decrease the body’s bone mass.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Tosi Laura Tosi, MD, is the director of the Bone Health Program at Children’s National Hospital. Her practice focuses on orthopaedic management of children with physical disabilities and birth defects.

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