Children who get plenty of exercise have stronger bones, reveals a new study.A decline in children's everyday exercise may increase the number of falls, resulting in more bone fractures, speculate researchers.

For example, the number of fractures in the bones of arms requiring surgical treatment has gone up by around 30 per cent over the last two decades, while fractures in hands and feet have decreased.

"Thanks to the decline in the amount of exercise, children's balance and coordination are poorer and bones weaker. We found that children who do more exercise have stronger bones," explains Mervi Mäyränpää, who gained her doctorate on children's fractures from the university of Helsinki in 2012.

Everyday physical activity, such as walking to the shop or library, kicking a ball around and involvement in household chores, has decreased, says researcher Maarit Piirtola from the University of Helsinki.

"Not many children climb trees and do cartwheels anymore. You need to use your arms to strengthen the bones," explains Piirtola.

Studies have found that exercise is particularly beneficial to the bones of 11–13-year-old children who are just starting a growth spurt. A new report on children and adolescents' physical activity reveals that only 50 per cent of 11-year-old children get the recommended amount of exercise, with the figure dropping to one in ten among 15-year-olds. An active lifestyle is likely to decrease the risk of fractures also in adulthood and old age.

There is also room for improvement in the intake of vitamin D and calcium, with most of the children who had fractured a bone consuming less vitamin D than the recommended 10 micrograms. Children do not get enough calcium in their diets either.

Researchers say that fractures can be prevented by exercise and physical activity and diet, with fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products and fish featuring on the list of recommended foodstuffs while sugar and hard fats should be given a wide berth.

"Especially girls tend to drink too little milk, preferring water and soft drinks instead," says Piirtola.

Petra Sneck – HT
Niina Woolley – HS
Image: Sami Kilpiö / HS