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Bone Health: Important Considerations for Your Children and Teenagers

by Carmen Andrews - Physiotherapist

Regular physical activity and good diet are vital for bone health throughout your life, but the ideal type of activity and nutrition varies during different life stages, as does its effect on your bone. Your bones are being continually renewed, with your body breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone, in response to the strain put on your skeleton by life. More activity puts more strain on your bones and your body responds by laying down extra bone, while less activity and strain means that bone is removed.

Peak bone mass (the total amount of bone present when the skeleton is fully mature) is determined by genetics and other factors, such as activity and nutrition in childhood. In your child, exercise affects the size and shape of their developing skeleton, and increases the positive results that eating a healthy amount of calcium has. The activities that are most useful for increasing your child’s bone mass are activities in weight bearing, or those with impact against another surface or object. Examples would include running, jumping, dancing, or kicking / striking a ball.

When your child is going through puberty there is a unique window for building bone. During these two to three years your child will gain 25 to 30 percent of their total adult bone mass; the amount of bone gained during this time equals the amount that is lost during the rest of their adult life. Simply put, if bone mass isn’t optimised during this time, your child’s body will have less reserve to draw from when they begin to lose bone mass with normal aging. This makes puberty a particularly valuable time to build your child’s bone mass with physical activity and by ensuring that they eat a balanced diet. (See hints at the end of the post.)

After peak bone mass is reached in late adolescence, bone health is optimised by preserving as much of this bone mass as possible throughout the rest of your life. Join us for our next post to learn more about maintaining your bone health through your middle age.

Hints to optimize your child’s bone mass: (Bailey et al. 2000)

  1. Physical activity:
    • Jumping from about 50 centimeters is a simple activity that can easily be included in physical education at school or in games at home. Such weight bearing activities are most effective in early or mid-puberty.

  2. Well-balanced diet:
    • Body weight: Very low body weight in children and adolescents may limit peak bone mass
    • Calcium: 1,300 mg per day in children 9–18years. NOTE: supplementing with too much calcium can be harmful
    • Vitamin D: In South Africa skin exposure to sunlight (short periods without sunblock) usually allows the body to make enough vitamin D; where sun exposure is limited, recommended levels of vitamin D intake are 200 IU per day for children and adolescents.

Resource used in writing this post: See link to Bailey et al eBook for further reading

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