Building strong bones from an early age is essential to preventing osteoporosis later in life. Because most bone mass is formed by the age of 20, it is important for young adults to get enough calcium, vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercise.
This is especially important for young women, because calcium is lost during pregnancy and menopause. Unfortunately, 90% of adolescent girls and teens do not get enough calcium from their diet, and children and teens with low bone mineral density (BMD) are at higher risk for bone fractures.1 2 When girls are involved in sports they are more likely to break a bone, so calcium and vitamin D are important to keep girls healthy during childhood and adolescence as well as when they are adults.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a common disease acquired later in life where bones weaken, become less dense, and are more likely to fracture.3 In 2006, 2% of men and 10% of women over 50 developed osteoporosis of the hip due to unhealthy bones.4 Building healthy bones as young adults is the best way to avoid fractures as children and later in life.
What to eat to build strong bones
Calcium contributes to building bone tissue, and vitamin D helps absorb calcium found in our diets.5 Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese and green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are good sources of calcium. In addition, orange juice and some mineral waters are fortified with calcium.6 The best source of vitamin D is 15 minutes of sunlight every day, but if you spend most of your time in the shade, vitamin D is also found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, in egg yolks and cheese, and in vitamin-D fortified milk.7
Unfortunately, studies have shown links between colas and low bone mineral density, which can lead to bone fractures as teenagers.1 8 9 The exact reason is not known, but researchers believe that phosphoric acid in colas may interfere with calcium absorption, or that drinking colas replace other sources of calcium, like milk.9 Without enough calcium, teens are more likely to break bones. Adolescents and teens should try to stay away from sodas and instead drink fortified milk or mineral water.10
What about supplements?
Calcium and vitamin D are thought to be better absorbed from natural sources like food and sunlight than from supplements.1 However, it is important to take supplements if you are not getting enough of these nutrients naturally. The NIH recommends that adolescents and teens consume 1,300 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D every day to develop strong, healthy bones as an adult.11 So try to get this much calcium and vitamin D through food and sunlight, but take supplements if you are not getting enough.
Get exercise to build strong bones
Getting the right kind of physical exercise is essential for strengthening bones and preventing fractures as teens, as well as later in life. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends “weight-bearing” exercise, such as walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing, yoga, and weight lifting.3 Swimming, riding bikes, and using elliptical machines are very good for your overall health but do not necessarily contribute to bone health. Try to find some activities or a gym routine that includes different types of exercise to foster good bone and heart health.
Best Bones Forever! Bone health campaign
Girlshealth.gov recently created a bone health campaign called “Best Bones Forever!” to encourage healthy habits among adolescents and teenagers that will help build strong bones. The website provides lists of foods and recipes that contain calcium and vitamin D, as well as a list of bone-strengthening physical activities. You can check out their campaign here.
All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.
- Kass-Wolff JH. Calcium in Women: Healthy Bones and Much More. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 2004;33(1):21–33. doi:10.1177/0884217503258280. ▲
- Goulding A, Cannan R, Williams SM, Gold EJ, Taylor RW, Lewis-Barned NJ. Bone Mineral Density in Girls with Forearm Fractures. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 1998;13(1):143–148. doi:10.1359/jbmr.19220.127.116.11. ▲
- Osteoporosis – overview. ADAM Medical Encyclopedia. 2012. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001400/. Accessed June 28, 2013. ▲
- FASTSTATS – Osteoporosis. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/osteoporosis.htm. Accessed July 1, 2013. ▲
- Best Bones Forever! Available at: http://www.bestbonesforever.gov/. Accessed July 1, 2013. ▲
- Calcium. Informed Health Online. 2013. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0005075/. Accessed June 28, 2013. ▲
- Vitamin D — Health Professional Fact Sheet. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ViitaminD-HealthProfessional/. Accessed July 1, 2013. ▲
- Wyshak G. Teenaged girls, carbonated beverage consumption, and bone fractures. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154(6):610–613. doi:10.1001/archpedi.154.6.610. ▲
- Tucker KL, Morita K, Qiao N, Hannan MT, Cupples LA, Kiel DP. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(4):936–942. ▲
- Calcium. Available at: http://www.osteofound.org/calcium. Accessed July 26, 2013. ▲
- New Recommended Daily Amounts of Calcium and Vitamin D | NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/winter11/articles/winter11pg12.html. Accessed July 1, 2013. ▲