3 Useful Tips for Building Strong Bones for Your Child
The bones in my spine
Help me stand up just fine,
While the bones in my ribs guard my heart.
The bones in my hips
Let me sit or do dips.
Without bones, I would just fall apart!
- Excerpt from a children’s song found in Little Giraffes.com
The Bare Bones
As mentioned in the poem above, these rigid forms of living tissue called bones provide structure for the body. Without it, everyone would be like blobs on the floor. Aside from holding the body up, bones also protect the vital organs, serve as a “factory” for blood cells, and act as a storage unit for minerals, such as calcium.
A person has about 300 bones in the body at birth. As you grow older, your bones fuse together to form 206 adult bones.
Osteogenesis or bone tissue formation begins during prenatal development, continues through the baby development process, and carries on until adulthood. It is crucial, then, that the bones are nourished and provided with bone-building nutrients during the crucial growing stages, which typically happens from childhood to about 20 years old.
From childhood to around the teenage years, special cells called osteoblasts make new bones more quickly than their siblings, osteoclasts, remove old bones. This is when major bone building is happening in the body until you reach your peak bone mass or density. When people step into their 20s, the bone-building slows down.
Childhood is the best time to build strong, healthy bones. Making sure that bones are strong is one way to prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis later in life.
For parents, here are three simple ways to help give your child strong bones:
1. Give Your Kids Food That Is High In Calcium
Calcium is a one of the two most important nutrients for bone health. Aside from its bone-building capabilities, it is also essential in helping the blood to clot, muscles to contract, and for nerves to send messages.
Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your blood and teeth and you lose it through your hair, skin, nails, sweat, urine and feces. Since your body cannot generate its own calcium supply, you need to get it from food that is rich in calcium.
For your kids, the amount of calcium will depend on their age and gender. Nutrition advisors usually recommend 700 mg of calcium per day for children ages one to three years old while kids aged four to eight years old should consume up to 1000 mg per day.
It is best to get calcium from food instead of supplements, as much as possible. Some of the best sources are milk, yogurt, and cheese. For lactose-intolerant children, other calcium sources are plant-based milks (such as soy or almond milk), green, leafy vegetables like kale or spinach, and seafood such as shrimp or oysters.
2. Supply Your Kids With Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another essential nutrient in making bones strong and healthy. It helps the body absorb calcium and also functions as a hormone that does many other jobs. Some of the key tasks of Vitamin D in the body are to help regulate the immune system, produce insulin, and stimulate cell growth.
Vitamin D can also help prevent rickets, a disease that can lead to bone deformity and fractures. A body that is deficient in vitamin D can also prevent kids from reaching their genetically programmed height and peak bone mass.
Just like calcium, your child doesn’t need to get enough vitamin D every day. It is all right to simply get the average intake over a course of a few days or a week. Babies one year old and younger are recommended to have at least 400 IU (international units) or 10 mcg (micrograms) a day. Children above one year of age need 600 IU or 15 mcg per day.
Called the “sunshine” vitamin, some doctors suggest getting a healthy dose of the sun’s rays for at least five to 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at least twice a week. There is a bone of contention here, however, as the harmful UV rays of the sun can also cause skin cancer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics therefore recommends that parents look into giving 400 IU of vitamin D supplements to infants, children and teens each day. You can also give your children food that is rich in vitamin D like milk, yogurt, cheese, salmon and egg yolk, among others.
It is important to also remember that too much of anything can have adverse effects. Make sure to ask your pediatrician or family doctor about the correct amount of calcium and vitamin D for your child.
3. Encourage Physical Activity
Aside from getting nutrients for bone strength and health, your child also needs to engage in physical activity. Much like how you use your muscles to make it stronger, you also need to do the same for your bones.
The pressure exerted on your bones from weight-bearing activities like walking, jumping, and running helps the body build stronger bones.
For babies who can’t walk yet, you can encourage them to be active by crawling around in a safe area in your home.
Toddlers who are able to walk around can be urged to become more active. When you let them play and run around, walk with you instead of always being in their strollers, or be involved in simple household tasks like tidying up their room or picking vegetables from the garden.
At least three hours spread throughout the day is enough. For kids aged five and older, an hour of physical activity a day is good.
You can also be a good model for your kids by enjoining them to exercise with you. You can play sports together, go swimming, enroll them in gymnastics class, or even lift weights. When lifting weights, just be sure that they are properly supervised, and refrain from using very heavy weights.
They can join you in doing squats, lunges or push-ups as long as they are not forcing themselves to do so.
Strong Bones, Stronger Bonds
Make this bone-building effort another chance to build a stronger bond with your baby. Be a good role model and show them that you also enjoy eating nutritious food and exercising.
When your little ones see you walking the talk, they will also be more inclined to follow your example. What’s more, you are creating fond memories of sharing happy meals and fun activities that will not only make their bodies strong, but also help make their hearts and mind healthy.