Active Kids means Stronger Knees (Article)


 Summers spent sedentary can come back to haunt children once they are adults.  For some time now, physical activity has been recommended for children in order to improve joint health and function.  Now doctors are asking a more specific question: does an active childhood build stronger knees?  Are there physical changes, induced by physical activity during the early years of a child’s life, that carry benefit into adult life and even old age? The answer turns out to be a resounding, YES.

Data from a long-term follow-up study of approximately 300 children suggests that, indeed, active children may have stronger knees as adults.  Dr. Graeme Jones, head of the musculoskeletal unit at the Menzies Research Institute, reports that, “The response to physical activity in childhood is to increase the size of the bone to adjust for this and to spread the load out, and the cartilage will then expand to cover the bone area or the area of contact.” (1)  The idea is that if children are able to develop more cartilage, it will last longer in their adult lives, thus preventing or delaying the development of osteoarthritis. Dr. Jones’ research indicate that active running and jumping children grow more articular (cushioning bone on bone) cartilage than their sedentary friends!

Keeping kids active has always been important, and now, it may help them grow up with stronger knees.  “The take home message is we need to make our kids as active as we can,” says Dr. Jones.  “Send them outside.  Don’t leave them inside playing Nintendo, or Wii, or computer games.  Physical activity is good for them in many ways, and we can reassure parents that it is actually good for their joint development also.” “Like money in the bank collecting interest” as Doc Smo always says; physical activity, especially when a child is young, has tremendous benefits.  Don’t let your children miss out on every opportunity to be as physically active.  Add stronger knees to the list of reasons parents need to encourage their children be involved in active play.

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 Written collaboratively by Abbie Doelger and Paul Smolen MD