Building strong bones in kids

Here are some simple yet effective ways for parents to make sure children develop a sturdy skeletal system from an early age.

As parents, we strive to give our children the best start in life. We teach them to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth and get a good night’s sleep. But there’s one foundational aspect of their health that might not always be on our radar – their bone health.

A solid foundation

It can be easy to overlook the importance of bones, as they do all their work behind the scenes. However, our skeletons form the framework of our bodies, providing structure, support and protection for vital organs. Just like a sturdy house needs a solid foundation, strong bones are essential for your child’s growth and development. From running and jumping, to simply sitting up straight, every movement relies on a healthy skeletal system. Breaks, fractures and general ageing are when this really starts to matter, as those who have developed robustly retain a huge health advantage. We build much of our bone density during childhood and the teenage years, so giving kids the gift of strong bones is by far the best path towards lifelong bone health. So, what can parents do to ensure that children’s bones are as strong as can be? Let’s dive in!

Calcium-rich foods

Calcium is a cornerstone of bone health and helping little ones get an adequate intake is very important. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt are well-known sources of calcium, but there are plenty of other options for those who are lactose intolerant or prefer plant-based alternatives. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach, fortified cereals, tofu, almonds, almond butter and sardines are all excellent sources of calcium.

Incorporating these foods into your child’s diet doesn’t have to be repetitive – in fact it can be fun and creative, even encouraging your little one to expand their tastes! Try making smoothies with yoghurt and fresh fruits, adding cheese to sandwiches and pasta dishes, or creating colourful salads with leafy greens and nuts. By making calcium-rich foods a regular part of your household’s meals and snacks, you’ll be giving your child’s bones the nutrients they need to thrive.

The sunshine vitamin

While calcium is essential for bone formation, vitamin D plays a critical role in helping the body absorb and utilise calcium effectively. The primary source of vitamin D is sunlight, which triggers our skin to make this important vitamin. However, many children don’t get enough sunlight exposure due to spending more time indoors than in previous generations, or using very high sunscreen when outdoors. While this is unlikely to be too much of a problem considering the climate of the region, it’s still good to consider incorporating foods that provide doses of this super nutrient! Good options include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or tuna, egg yolks, fortified dairy and non-dairy products, and mushrooms. Some parents rely on supplements to ensure their little ones receive an adequate amount, but this approach is less necessary in a country with such an abundance of sunshine giving some thought to creating meals that involve vitamin D should provide your children with more than enough. However, if you want to explore the supplementation route, make sure to consult your doctor first to ensure your little one is actually in need.

Move those bones!

Our muscles improve the more we use them and the same is true for bones. Regular physical activity is not only essential for overall health, but also for building strong bones. Weight-bearing exercises like running, jumping and dancing, or sports such as soccer, basketball and gymnastics help to stimulate bone growth and strengthen existing bone mass. It’s good to encourage kids to participate in at least an hour of physical activity each day to keep their bones strong and healthy.

Perhaps you could organise family activities such as homemade obstacle courses, hikes or a game of tag in your outdoor space to make movement fun! Not only is it a great opportunity to bond together, it also encourages a love for being active. Remember, the goal is to make physical activity enjoyable and part of your child’s daily routine.

Limit sugar and caffeine

While it’s important to focus on foods that promote bone health, it’s equally wise to be mindful of those that may have a negative impact. Sugary drinks, even sweetened fruit juices, can leach calcium from your child’s bones, weakening them over time. Similarly, too much caffeine, found in coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks, can interfere with your little one’s calcium absorption.

Encourage your child to opt for water as their main beverage, and reserve sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages for special occasions only. Teaching little ones healthy hydration habits early on sets the stage for long-term bone health.

Lead by example

As parents, we have a powerful influence on our children’s behaviours and attitudes towards health. By modelling healthy habits ourselves, we can inspire kids to emulate the choices we make. With this in mind, try to share meals together as a family that involve bone-strengthening foods and make physical activities a positive part of your own routine. If you can, try to educate your children about the importance of bone health so they feel aware and empowered to make better decisions about their own lifestyle (or go along with the healthy activities you’re encouraging them towards!). By instilling these values early on, you’re equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to take charge of their wellbeing throughout their lives.

Building strong bones in kids is a fundamental aspect of taking care of their physical development. By providing a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, encouraging kids to move more and fostering healthy habits, you will set your children up for a lifetime of strong bones and optimal health – so they can grow, thrive and reach their full physical potential.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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