Physical activity in children has many benefits including cardiovascular conditioning, muscular development and socialization skills. A recent study demonstrates fewer fractures in active children.
Bone development begins during the third month of fetal development but is not complete until adolescence. Cartilage serves as the scaffolding necessary for the deposition of layers of minerals that will eventually form bones. This process is known as ossification.
The principal cells involved in the ossification process are osteoblasts. These cells are responsible for laying the groundwork and creating ossification centers that will eventually expand and replace cartilage. Long bones such as the femur and humerus require more time to fully mature.
The process of bone formation and remodeling doesn’t end in adolescence. As patients get older, bones will remodel based on responses to pressure. This same hydrostatic pressure stimulates new bone growth and repair of fractured bones.
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bone structure as a result of demineralization of bone that often occurs with poor nutrition and age.
The study cited above looked at two groups of children. The first group had 40 minutes of moderate physical activity daily as part of their school curriculum while the second group had only 60 minutes per week of activity. After eight years of study, the first group showed less risk of fracture.
Additional studies on these children measured bone mass. These reports showed greater bone mineral density in the active group and subsequently less chance of developing osteoporosis.
Approximately one-third of all children will experience a bone fracture before bone growth is complete. Many school districts have cut back on time dedicated to physical activity during the school day for economic and academic reasons.
Increasing active playtime in elementary schools may have a huge impact on future health care costs.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org