If you think back to when you were young, you may remember being told to drink milk and take necessary vitamins because it was good for healthy, strong bones. It is no secret that our early years are an important time for bones to develop and gain healthy minerals as they transition to the adult years. However, as it turns out, our later teen years may be equally, if not more important, for overall bone health.
Dr. Shana E. McCormack, a pediatric researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is a huge proponent of children’s growth and the foundation for lifelong health. “We often think of a child’s growth largely with respect to height, but overall bone development is also important,” she says. “Our studies are showing us that roughly 10 percent of bone mass continues to accumulate after a teenager reaches his or her full adult height.”
The research team also discovered that bone growth is site-specific, meaning that bone mineral density and overall health develops at different rates in different parts of our body. This could primarily be the reason for why height growth outpaces bone mineral growth, which leads to a high number of bone fractures in children and adolescents. The numbers tell us that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of children experience one fracture before turning adults. This number significantly decreases in adulthood, before picking back up when bone density begins to decrease as we get older.
Improving Bone Strength And Development
What these studies show us is that we need to reinforce the overall importance of a healthy diet, which includes items that play a magnificent role in bone development in young teens such as vitamin D, protein, and calcium. But, a healthy diet only scratches the surface. Physical activity of at least one hour per day during the late teen years also acts as a good foundation for lifelong health. Other behaviors to avoid that are common in adolescent teens are smoking and alcohol use, which largely prohibit healthy bone mineral development.
“The young teen years are a time for parents and caregivers to encourage healthy behaviors,” says McCormack. “This means better diets and more physical activity.” She cites a CHOP study that showed that high-impact exercising improves bone strength and deters fragility. This means that maximizing our overall bone health when we are teenagers can protect us from developing osteoporosis as we get older.
Our bones are living tissue too and need to be taken care of to prevent early break down. The most important and ideal time to build strength in our bones is during childhood and late adolescence. Nutrients essential for bone growth can be found easily in our foods, but also just from daily sunshine and physical activity outdoors. Because our bones rapidly grow during these vital years, adequate consumption is a major factor to consider before it’s too late.
Understanding the relationship between your age and bone growth may not be something we normally think about. However, parents and caregivers may need to support and take a second look when determining a child’s development stage. Lifestyle makes a difference. For teens, a healthy diet, adequate physical activity, plenty of sunshine, and no drugs can make a significant difference in how your body will feel after you turn 30.