Bounce into the New Year with Healthy Bones: 3 Key Factors to Ensure Good Bone Health

With the start of the New Year, most of us would have made a New Year’s resolution. Studies show that the number one resolution most adults make is to get fitter/lose weight. So I would like to take the opportunity to turn the focus on bone health for the New Year. Many people overlook the importance of fitness in terms of keeping our bones healthy. Looking after our bones is particularly important in childhood because this is the period of bone growth where we can ensure good foundations are laid for a lifetime of good bone health.

Bones have several important functions, they:

  • Protect our soft, internal organs, like our brains and lungs;
  • Contain marrow where blood cells are made;
  • Store minerals like calcium; and most importantly
  • Support the structure of our bodies so that we can maintain an active lifestyle.

Healthy bones are important for everybody, at every stage of life.
For children, strong healthy bones assist in reaching their optimum growth level. Bones reach their peak bone mass by their 20’s, which is when our bones are at their strongest. For adults, strong healthy bones mean you can maintain your bone density and a lead fit and active life well into old age. Strong bones reduce the risk of breaks occurring later in life.

3 Key Factors to Ensure Good Bone Health

1. Calcium
Calcium is the major building block for bones. It’s deposited as a crystal onto our bones and gives them their hard strength. Bone also acts as a storage bank for calcium so when we don’t get enough calcium in our diets, the body will snatch the calcium it needs from our bones to use for other important functions. If it is not replaced our bones will become porous and lose their strength. Weak bones break easily.

That’s why it’s so important to have a daily supply of calcium, throughout our lives. Different ages, genders and stages of life require different amounts of calcium. Children aged between 4-8 years should aim to have 2-3 serves of calcium-rich foods each day to reach a total intake of 700mg/day. Older children (9-11 years) and teens (12-18 years) should aim to have 3 serves of calcium-rich foods each day to reach a total intake of 1000-1300 mg/day. This is their period of rapid bone growth.

2. Sunshine
Vitamin D is essential to bone health. It increases the amount of calcium that’s absorbed from the gut, adjusts the amount of calcium that’s in the blood and strengthens the skeleton. Most of us get our vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UVB radiation that is present in sunlight. While there are some foods that contain Vitamin D, it is difficult to get the required amount from diet alone.

In Australia we need to balance the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure with maintaining adequate Vitamin D levels.

So how much sunshine do you need, to get enough vitamin D?
It depends on the seasons, where you are and time of day – generally:

  • In summer – for moderately fair-skinned people, a walk with arms exposed for 5–10 minutes mid morning or mid afternoon in summer is beneficial for Vitamin D production.
  • In winter – the same moderately fair skinned person needs to be exposed for longer so the recommendation is 7–30 minutes (depending on the latitude of where you live) at noon. You need to expose as much bare skin as feasible, to maintain adequate vitamin D levels in the body.

Exposure to sunlight is recommended at 10am and 2pm in summer (11am or 3pm in daylight saving time). Avoid peak UV periods due to the cancerous effects of sunlight at that time.

3. Exercise
Exercise is essential for everybody. When we exercise, our muscles pull on our bones, which in turn build bone. Hence exercise builds stronger, denser bones.
As a rule of thumb, 30 minutes of bone building exercise 4-6 times a week can help maintain better bone density.

Bones respond better to particular types of exercise, including:

  • weight-bearing exercises. For example; brisk walking, hiking, stair climbing, tennis, netball, jogging and aerobic dance
  • resistance training. For example; exercises can be machine-based ( e.g. leg press, seated rowing) or done using free weights i.e. dumbbells or ankle weights
  • high impact exercise. For example; skipping, jogging, jumping, netball and basketball
  • balance training. For example; standing on one leg with eyes closed, sitting on an exercise ball, tai-chi and yoga.

Cycling and swimming are great forms of cardiovascular exercise – they will burn calories and get your heart rate up. However they won’t do anything for your bones, as there are no weight-bearing forces involved.

Concerned that your child may not be getting sufficient exercise or the right types of exercise to build strong bones? Want to help your child with special needs or developmental delay who is not yet standing or walking, to build strong bones? Find out how you can help your child build strong bones, contact our Paediatric Physiotherapist on (02) 9790 4233 for a consult on today.