It’s not always easy to keep kids active during the winter months — but recent research out of the University of Iowa may provide extra motivation: Children who get the least exercise may wind up more prone to fractures later on.Scientists scanned the bone density of 333 five-year-olds and then monitored physical activity over the course of several days using a pedometer-like device.The same group was re-assessed three, then six years later. Boys and girls with the highest physical activity at age 5 had as much as 14% more bone mass at ages 8 and 11 than those with the lowest amount of physical activity. The study authors concluded that adding just 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily at age 5 could translate to 4% more bone mass in girls, and 6% more in boys at age 11.

While early exercise translates into stronger bones, it may also make it easier to stay slim later: Those kids most active at age five had 4% less fat mass at age 11, one study found. Research has also linked early exercise with improved academic performance, lower blood pressure, and better visual spatial skills. Previous research has shown that colder, wetter weekend weather can translate into a 15% drop in activity levels among kids.

In addition to activity, nutrition makes all the difference in building stronger bones: Studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables can increase bone mineral content.

Fruit and vegetables not only help the body get more calcium, they supply many of the other, oft overlooked nutrients — potassium, folate, vitamins K and C — which support bone health.

Published January 1, 2012