In my clinics, I treat many fractures, especially during the height of summer outdoor activities and during winter ski/snowboard season. I often get this question from parents, “What can I do to help my child have stronger bones?”
While there are no specific guidelines for strengthening young bones, there are many things you can do to develop better bone health in your growing child.
Following the simple suggestions below may improve the bone density of your child, which is particularly important since 90% of human bone growth occurs before age 20.
Diet and nutrition impacts bone health
- Encourage fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, beans, and soy.
- Discourage soda pop; the phosphates contained in soda may decrease calcium absorption in the bone.
- Make sure your child has the recommended daily allowance of essential bone health nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and vitamin C.
- Monitor weight gain. Obesity is a growing problem in America’s youth. Be a role model for healthy eating habits.
- Serve age-appropriate meal and snack portions.
- Avoid junk food, fast food, and highly processed foods, sweetened juices and sports drinks and candy.
- Choose a fun activity to do together instead of using food treats as a reward for good behavior.
Be active to improve bone density
- Encourage regular physical activity, at least 60 minutes per day. This can be casual, recreational, and informal, but should raise the heart rate and cause sweating.
- Decrease TV and computer time. Set specific time limits on daily participation in sedentary activities.
- Some sun exposure early or late in the day without sunscreen may be healthy. The body absorbs vitamin D through sunlight, and this key vitamin helps with the absorption of calcium. Maintain a balance; overexposure to sunlight is a risk for skin cancer, skin damage, and wrinkling.
Participate in regular weight bearing, high-impact activity that loads the bones.
- The “riding sports” (skateboarding, scooters, bicycles) are very popular these days but do not promote healthy bone impact. Impact activity includes running, jumping, hopping, skipping, cutting, and weightlifting. Movements should be forceful, fast, changing in direction, and progressively more skilled.
Set up an obstacle course
The following is a fun high-impact obstacle course you can set up and do with your child to help build bone strength. As they improve, add more challenges by using a timer or increasing repetitions.
Single leg hop to the side: Hop on right leg to the right 3 times. Hop on left leg to the left 3 times.
Double leg hop: Jump forward with two feet together. Older children can hop over cushions or cones, while younger children can hop over coins or stickers.
- Drop hop: Stand on the bottom stair of a staircase or on a step-stool or firm box. Jump down with two feet shoulder width apart, landing with knees pointing straight ahead.
- Frog leap: Kneel down into a crouched position and leap upwards. Land with both feet facing forward, knees straight ahead in the same crouched position.
- Hopscotch: Place colored tape on the floor, or if outside use chalk, to mark out a hopscotch course (series of squares). Throw a stone into one of the squares and hop on one or two legs into all squares except the one with the stone.
- Jumping jacks: Jump up and down with legs and arms spreading out wide. Younger children may start with less (such as 5 repetitions) while older children may do more. Use a timer to make the task more difficult such as how many jumping jacks can be completed in 1 minute or how long does it take to complete 20 jumping jacks?
Check out more sports safety articles.
Written by the Sports Medicine team at Children’s Hospital Colorado.