It's easy to take our bones for granted. After all, they do all their work behind the scenes. But when a bone breaks, it's a big deal. Bones take time to heal, even for kids.

Having strong bones in childhood lays a foundation for bone health throughout life. We build almost all our bone density when we're children and teens. The bone-building process is mostly finished around age 20. As adults, we still replace old bone with new bone, but more slowly. Over time, our bones get weaker.

Kids with strong bones have a better chance of avoiding bone weakness later in life. As a parent, you can help by making sure kids get the three key ingredients for healthy bones: calcium, vitamin D, and exercise.

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1. Give Kids High-Calcium Foods

Calcium is a mineral that's known for building healthy bones. It's found in dairy products, beans, some nuts and seeds, and leafy green vegetables. It's also often added to foods like orange juice or cereal.

What You Can Do

Encourage your kids to eat high-calcium foods:

  • If your child eats dairy, your doctor or dietitian can tell you how much to serve based on age. Younger kids may need 2–3 servings of low-fat dairy each day, while older kids may need 4 servings.
  • Look to replace common foods with high-calcium versions. Buy almond butter instead of peanut butter or calcium-fortified orange juice instead of regular juice.

2. Give Kids a Vitamin D Supplement

Vitamin D (sometimes labeled vitamin D3) helps the body absorb calcium. But most kids don't eat many foods that contain vitamin D. Because vitamin D is so important, health care providers recommend all kids take a vitamin D supplement if they don't get enough in their diet. Even babies need to take vitamin D unless they're drinking at least 32 ounces of formula per day.

What You Can Do

Ask your doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or a dietitian how much vitamin D your child needs and the best way to get it.

3. Encourage Kids to Exercise

Our muscles get stronger the more we use them. The same is true for bones.

Weight-bearing activities like walking, running, jumping, and climbing are especially good for building bone. They use the force of our muscles and gravity to put pressure on our bones. The pressure makes the body build up stronger bone.

Activities like riding a bike and swimming don't create this weight-bearing pressure. They are great for overall body health, but kids also need to do some kind of weight-bearing exercise.

What You Can Do

Make sure your child gets at least an hour of physical activity each day, including weight-bearing exercises.

Everyone needs to get enough calcium, vitamin D, and exercise. But these are really important for kids — especially when they're growing during the preteen and teen years. Vitamin D and calcium also can be useful as part of a medical treatment. Health care providers often prescribe them when kids are recovering from fractures or orthopedic surgeries, such as spinal fusion for scoliosis.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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