How to grow healthy bones

kids playing soccer on the field

Would you like to know the recipe for building healthy bones throughout childhood? It comes down to three main simple ingredients: calcium, vitamin D and physical activity. Each of these plays an important role in the formation of strong, healthy bones and helps reduce bone weakness and breaks.

Calcium for healthy bones

Calcium is one of the main building blocks of bones and teeth. It’s important for building and attaining maximum bone mass in childhood and adolescence, and reducing the risk of bone thinning and weakness with age.

Calcium is important for everyone, but especially kids as they have greater calcium requirements to support their rapidly growing skeleton. To ensure your children obtain the calcium they need to grow strong, healthy bones it’s important to encourage a balanced diet with plenty of calcium‐rich foods including:1

  • Milk and milk products such as cheese, yoghurt, sour cream and buttermilk. A fortified milk substitute such as soy, almond or oat may be suitable if intolerances to milk exist.
  • Canned salmon or sardines with soft edible bones.
  • Tofu.
  • Green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach and bok choy.
  • Calcium‐fortified products such as breakfast cereal or orange juice.

It’s best to obtain calcium from food but this can prove difficult with children, especially those who are passing through a fussy eating stage or who have food intolerances. A specialised kids’ calcium supplement may be useful for helping top up a child’s calcium intake to support their bone health.

Vitamin D for bone health

Vitamin D is needed to build and maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium from food and supplements, and by regulating blood levels of calcium. The main source of vitamin D is from exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun as very few foods contain enough to satisfy a person’s daily requirements. Ways to help ensure your child has enough vitamin D to support their bone health includes:

  • Encourage sensible sun exposure, whilst using sun protection when the UV index is three or above.
  • Include sources of vitamin D in the diet such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, cheese and egg yolks.2
  • Consider a vitamin D supplement. It can be difficult to obtain enough sun through winter and in summer, the use of sunscreen may block vitamin D production. Additionally, kids with darker skin require more sun time, which they may not be getting.

Physical activity for strong bones

Good nutrition isn’t the only factor for good bone health. Regular physical activity for kids can promote new bone tissue to form, which can help maximise peak bone mass and strength. This helps keep bones stronger for longer in adulthood. To help build healthy bones:

  • Younger children aged two to five should be encouraged to play actively several times everyday.3
  • Children between the ages of six to seventeen should participate in bone‐strengthening exercise at least three times a week. The best exercise for bones includes weight‐bearing activities, which keep you on your feet so your legs carry your body weight. Try to incorporate walking, jogging or running, sports such as soccer, netball, basketball, tennis or hockey, jumping rope or dancing into your child’s routine.