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The Building Blocks to Stronger Bones

Foods and Lifestyle Habits that Support Healthy Skeletal Development

Growing bones require more than just a glass of milk to remain up to the task of supporting keiki (children) as they run, jump and play. Bone is a living, growing tissue made mostly of two materials. The first is calcium. Many people are familiar with this mineral's ability to strengthen and harden bone. The second, collagen, is a protein that provides a soft framework so that bones can bend under pressure. Together, this duo makes bone both strong and flexible to hold up under everyday wear and tear.

As we age, our bones naturally release calcium and other minerals into the body. Luckily, new bone always is added, or deposited, to your bone bank. For most people, bone formation continues at a faster pace than removal until sometime after age 20. As we continue past age 30, bone withdrawals can begin to outpace deposits. If you overdraw on your bone bank account, you can get osteoporosis when you get older.

While childhood is the ideal time to build up that bone bank, adults also can adjust their lifestyles for better bone health. Here are three habits the whole family can follow.

Shop Beyond the Dairy Aisle

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt have long been the go-to dietary sources for calcium, and for good reason. One serving of dairy can average about 300 milligrams of calcium, which is about one-third of the recommended daily intake of calcium for kids, and one-fourth the amount for teens. But dairy isn't the only food in which you'll find calcium. Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and swiss chard are considered good sources of the mineral, as are orange juice, soy, fortified cereals and sardines.

Other nutrients also aid in calcium absorption. Magnesium, zinc and vitamins C, D and K all help promote bone formation and protect against conditions such as osteoporosis and osteopenia. Researchers also have found a correlation between bone formation and protein consumption – a diet high in protein balanced with lots of plant foods and adequate calcium intake can help protect bone health as a person ages.

Get Moving with Weight-Bearing Exercises

"Use it or lose it" doesn't just apply to muscle tone. Regular physical activity greatly impacts the health of our bones. However, not just any exercise will build better bone strength. Weight-bearing moves like walking, running, dancing and hiking can be incorporated into your daily routine. Sports like basketball, soccer, volleyball and tennis also are great for increasing bone density. Plus, they're fun for the whole family!

Strengthen with Stretching

Incorporating short stretch breaks throughout the day can do more than just lengthen your muscles. Improving your flexibility with exercises like yoga and Pilates can benefit bone health as well. As your flexibility increases, so does your range of motion, which allows you to move with more agility.

Flexibility also helps protect your joints and prevent injury, especially for those who spend long hours in front of a computer screen. "Stretching is important for children, especially in this technological day and age where children are being more sedentary. Their muscles can become imbalanced from spending long periods of time sitting, and that can lead to pain or injuries, even in younger ages," said Kanoe Hook, D.P.T., a physical therapist with the Shriners Hospitals for Children — Honolulu rehabilitation services team.

One move Kanoe recommends as an excellent beginning stretch for both children and adults is the seated crescent moon.

  • Start by sitting tall on your chair. Lift your arms overhead and interlace your fingers, with your pointer fingers pointing to the sky.
  • Lean to the right, taking 2-3 deep breaths. Gently lean to the left, taking 2-3 deep breaths.
  • Return to a neutral spine.

For more stretching moves and advice from Kanoe, read the article "Chair yoga poses to strengthen your body and mind."

Support Growing Bodies and Minds

Milk may do a body good, but encouragement to eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and other important nutrients, paired with regular movement through weight-bearing exercises and stretching, provides keiki a strong foundation for healthy skeletal development.

Remember: The nutrition and exercise choices you establish for your kids can make – or break – their bones in later years. Help keep kids in motion for years to come by making these small lifestyle adjustments today.

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