Whether you’re starting your first day of kindergarten or simply a long-time “student of life,” back to school means turning over a new leaf. What can YOU do this fall to ensure best bone health?
Shakespeare famously wrote of the seven ages of man, ranging from infancy to very old age, each with its own special attributes and challenges.
We might easily apply the Bard’s wise words to bone health, as well – because from infancy to old age, each stage of life comes with its own issues around healthy bones: from building, to maintenance, to repair.
Let’s start with the very youngest among us. While nursing babies don’t need to worry about calcium, parents of toddlers should be aware of their children’s intake of both calcium and vitamin D. While bones naturally build in size and strength as a child grows, it doesn’t hurt to give them the nutrients they need.
It’s currently recommended that toddlers (through age 3) get about 700mg calcium a day; if your child enjoys yogurt, milk, or other dairy products, these are a good source. Look for calcium-fortified orange juice, cereal, and other foods, as well.
From the age of 1 on up through adulthood, the recommended daily vitamin D intake is 600IU. Unless your child enjoys oily fish (sardines, mackerel, et. al. – not likely!), s/he’ll probably need a D supplement.
Remember, also, that a good deal of daily vitamin D for all of us – toddlers to seniors – can come from sunlight; just 10 to 15 minutes daily, for all except those across the northern tier of the country, is sufficient. That assumes sun exposure without sun block; after that initial 10 minutes or so, apply sun block for longer exposure.
Children need both exercise and the proper foods to continue to build their bones. Through age 8, recommendations are that a child get 1000mg calcium daily; from age 10 to 18, that jumps to 1300mg. Given a child is eating dairy or soy products as a regular part of the daily diet (yogurt, cheese, milk/soy milk, cottage cheese, ice cream, tofu), calcium shouldn’t be an issue. Again, look for calcium-fortified cereal and OJ, especially for those who don’t love dairy.
A children’s multivitamin will supply the necessary vitamin D; check the label to make sure your child is getting at least 600IU.
Just as important as diet, though, is exercise. Bones thrive on being gently stressed, via running, jumping, and active games. While this shouldn’t be a problem for most children, make sure your son or daughter doesn’t spend his or her afternoons glued to the TV or a tablet.
Encourage organized sports, or any kind of physical activity, from swimming to bicycling to kickball at the after-school program. Exercise not only strengthens bones, it reduces the risk of childhood obesity – a condition that can have long-lasting negative effects on your child’s life.