Bone health

Human Body 5 min

Diet and physical activity: Allies in building and maintaining healthy bones

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
Hanging skeleton
Young boy gazing up a skeleton


  • Nutrients that are good for your bones
  • Foods that contain calcium
  • Getting enough vitamin D
  • Physical activity and bone health

Bone health starts at birth

  • Most bone density is acquired during childhood and adolescence.
  • Girls and boys reach their peak bone density at ages 18 and 20, respectively.
  • That’s why we need to talk to young people about the importance of healthy bones.

Here are four tips for building and maintaining strong bones

1. Opt for calcium-rich foods

Milk and dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and kefir naturally contain calcium and are part of a healthy diet. Other sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, legumes, canned salmon with bones, nuts and fortified foods. Keep in mind that the body doesn’t absorb plant-based calcium as easily, even when it is present in large quantities.

2. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D

Vitamin D, the “sunshine” vitamin, helps the body absorb calcium. It’s produced when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, but it’s also present in certain foods, including fatty fish (e.g., trout, salmon, mackerel and sardines), egg yolks and fish liver oil.

In Canada, all milk is fortified with vitamin D – it’s the main source of vitamin D for Canadians. Vitamin D is also found in fortified vegetable beverages and some yogurts. However, few foods contain it naturally. To find out if you should take a supplement, consult a Registered Dietitian.

3. Focus on nutrients that are good for your bones

In addition to vitamin D and calcium, magnesium, vitamin K and potassium play important roles in bone health. You can get them from whole-grain products, fruit, vegetables and lentils.

Another very important nutrient is protein. Protein is one of the main components of muscles and bones. Choose protein-rich foods such as poultry, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.

4. Get moving!

Children and teens should practice moderate- to high-intensity physical activity each day. Take a look at the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for more information.

The best activities are ones that increase their heart rate (make them short of breath) and help them develop muscle strength. The more active they are, the greater the health benefits!

Here are some fun ideas to get children and teens moving and help them develop strong bones:

  • Skip or dance to your favourite song.
  • Try a sport such as soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball or hockey.
  • Join in active games at recess, like four square or tag.
  • Skateboard, bike or rollerblade to a friend’s house.
  • Take a class – dance, for instance.
  • Enjoy winter activities such as skating, skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding or sledding in the park.
  • Challenge each other as you walk or run in the park.


Multi level
Human body
Health behaviours