Maintaining healthy bones

Exercise and physical activity are important for children's bone health. These activities will help activate their body's bone-forming cells and strengthen their bones.

To avoid the risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures later in life, get your child to practise the two most important lifelong habits for maintaining healthy bones: good nutrition and plenty of exercise.

Did you know that bones are living tissue? They are made up of a network of fibre, calcium and other minerals that are necessary for building and maintaining strong bones. Not only do bones give your child his body structure, which allows him to walk, ride a bike and hold a toy, but it also protects his little organs and makes space for bone marrow, where blood and bone cells are made.

As living tissue, bone tissue constantly changes, with old tissue being replaced by new ones. This process enables them to increase in size and density throughout childhood and adolescence.

Bone tissue in the skeleton, known as bone mass, usually peaks at around 20 to 30 years of age. This is when your child's bones have reached their maximum strength and density.

However, as an individual gets older (depending on size and sex), more bone calcium is lost than is replaced, resulting in a reduction of his or her bone density or bone mass. This can cause the bone to progressively weaken, and increase the risk of fractures.

Therefore, building and maintaining your child's bone growth and development from early childhood will help reduce his risk of osteoporosis (a disease that makes bones more fragile and break easily) and fractures later in life.

Maintaining healthy bones

To avoid the risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures later in life, get your child to practise the two most important lifelong habits for maintaining healthy bones: good nutrition and plenty of exercise.

Good nutrition will help ensure that your child's body has enough vitamins and minerals to make and generate bones. While vitamins D, K and A are needed for normal bone metabolism, calcium and vitamin D are particularly important for his bone health.

Calcium is an integral part of your child's bone structure and serves as a calcium bank that offers a readily available supply of the mineral should a drop in blood calcium occur.

A lack of calcium in his diet can result in calcium being removed from the skeleton and weaken his bones.

You can get calcium from milk and dairy products like yoghurt and cheese, as well as green leafy vegetables, soy products and other foods that are fortified with calcium.

If your child cannot take milk or dairy products due to any medical reasons, talk to a doctor or nutritionist. He or she will help you work out a plan on other ways to obtain calcium, especially from other sources of dietary calcium.

Supplements should be the last choice, and will be recommended only if absolutely necessary.

Vitamin D is also important for growing healthy bones. Vitamin D that your child gets from exposure to sunlight will help his body effectively absorb calcium from his diet.

If your child does not get enough sunlight for whatever reason, get him to eat foods rich in or fortified with vitamin D such as egg yolk, certain cereals, breads, butter, cream, liver, fruit juices and milk that is fortified with vitamin D.

If you think your child needs calcium and vitamin D supplements, remember to check with a nutritionist or paediatrician first for proper evaluation and advice.

Exercise and physical activity are important for children's bone health at all stages of life. For children below seven years of age, moderate physical activities that help to strengthen bones include jumping, hopping, skipping, and running.

Primary school children and adolescents can engage in activities like jumping rope, running, gymnastics, basketball, football, volleyball or badminton.

These activities will help activate their body's bone-forming cells and strengthen their bones.

The best way to get your child to develop healthy habits throughout his life is to be a good role model. According to research, active children have active parents.

Therefore, if you make physical activity a priority and maintain a healthy diet, which includes plenty of calcium-rich foods, chances are your lifestyle habits will rub off on your child in the process.

As your child gets older, his bone health will be affected by genetics, hormone loss, nutrition and exercise. His genes cannot be changed, but you can help him control his nutrition and activity level.

Be sure that he eats foods with all the essential nutrients, gets plenty of fruits and vegetables daily and exercises regularly.

Osteoporosis in children and females

Although rare in children and adolescents, when osteoporosis does occur, it is usually caused by an underlying medical disorder or by medications used to treat the disorder (secondary osteoporosis).

Sometimes, there is no identifiable cause of osteoporosis in a child (idiopathic osteoporosis).

Women are more likely to have low peak bone mass than males and hormonal changes at the menopause increases bone loss in women.

Females who rigorously play sports or exercise intensely are at risk of a problem known as the female athlete triad. This is a combination of three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. Low oestrogen levels and poor nutrition, especially low calcium intake, can lead to osteoporosis.

It is never too late to start taking care of your child's bones. Healthy lifestyle habits can protect your child's bones and decrease his chance of getting osteoporosis later in life.

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