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How to Build Strong Bones in Children

By Paula Quinene ; Updated June 13, 2017

The best time to build strong, healthy bones is during the childhood years. While bone development and bone density are influenced by genetics, your child's dietary and physical activity habits strongly determine the health of her bones as she ages. A 2004 article in the journal "Preventing Chronic Disease" restates this aptly, noting that osteoporosis is a childhood disease with adult consequences. Children must consume an adequate amount of calcium, maximizing their bone mass prior to their adult years. Furthermore, it's important for kids to engage in regular weight-bearing exercises, further strengthening their bones.

Calcium-Rich Foods

  1. Serve 16 oz. of vitamin D-enriched skim milk with your child’s breakfast for a total of 600 mg of calcium; children between the ages of 9 and 18 need 1,300 mg of calcium per day when their bones are growing at the fastest rate, according to the National Institute of Child and Human Development. Vitamin D optimizes calcium absorption.

  2. Use two slices of low-fat American cheese to make your child’s sandwich for slightly over 200 mg of calcium. Include an 8-oz. or 1-cup serving of calcium-fortified orange juice with his lunch; this adds 350 mg of calcium to his daily calcium intake.

  3. Give your child to a calcium-rich snack for dessert, such as 1/2 cup of low-fat yogurt, or give her 1 cup of skim milk before bed.

Physical Activity

  1. Encourage your child to participate in activities that involve a high degree of jumping and running to stimulate increases in bone mass; children must engage in 10 to 20 minutes of high-impact activities such as soccer, basketball or gymnastics for a minimum of two times per day and three days per week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

  2. Show your child how to exercise with the weights you have in your basement, garage or living room; children can safely lift weights as long as they are directly supervised and are mature enough to follow directions. Take your daughter with you to the gym once she is old enough to enter the weight room; girls generally have lower bone mass than boys and, therefore, have weaker bones as adult women, according to William McArdle, et al. in “Exercise Physiology, Energy, Nutrition & Human Performance.”

  3. Refrain from having your child use very heavy weights for weight-training exercises. Have him use weights that are challenging, but that he can lift for 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 15 repetitions. Have him include multi-joint exercises, such as squats, lunges, bench presses, barbell rows, push-ups, and pull-ups, in his exercise regimen. The bone mass your child builds from weight training in the childhood years gives him a better opportunity to retain bone strength as an adult.

  4. Tip

    Lead by example; drink plenty of skim milk and participate in a regular resistance training program.

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