Heart disease and cancer typically top the list of health risks to try to prevent. But bone loss, too often, doesn’t make the cut. “Rarely do people get enough calcium throughout the day,” says OAM nurse practitioner and orthopaedic bone specialist Tammy Beckett. In fact, most of her patients take in only a third of the daily calcium their bodies require. Our bones continue to grow and develop until they peak at around age thirty. After that, it’s all bone maintenance or loss. Beckett states, “As we get older, most people stop drinking milk and eating calcium-rich foods, because we just don’t think about it anymore.”

Food, not supplements Could you take a daily calcium pill and stop worrying? “Calcium supplements have been associated with such things as kidney stones,” says Beckett. “To be safe, try to get your calcium from foods. Also, food provides a variety of vitamins and minerals that supplements just don’t offer.” Calcium isn’t the only contributor to strong bones. It takes an army of vitamins and minerals working together. “Boron helps calcium stick to the bone; vitamin C helps collagen to form within the bone,” says Beckett. Beckett’s rule of thumb: “Focus on a Mediterranean-style diet: fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and healthy protein. Optimal protein intake is essential for preserving bone and muscle mass with aging. That’s what I teach all my patients.” On your next trip to the grocer or farmer’s market, look for foods rich in these vitamins and minerals:

Calcium – milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, tofu, kale, collard greens, broccoli, canned salmon and sardines (with bones), fortified foods

Protein – dairy, eggs, fish, turkey, chicken, lean red meat, beans, nuts, tofu, lentils

Boron – prunes, almonds, raisins, dried apricots, grapes, peaches, avocado, peanuts, broccoli

Magnesium – legumes, spinach, artichoke, tuna, avocado, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dark chocolate, brown rice, yogurt, kefir

Vitamin K – dark green, leafy vegetables

Vitamin C – citrus fruits, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, bell pepper

Vitamin D – Also called the “sunshine vitamin,” the best natural source of vitamin D is the sun. Since we don’t get abundant sunshine in Michigan, Beckett advises her patients to take a supplement — an exception to the rule. Check with your physician first before taking any supplements.

It’s not just your diet Five factors affect bone health: nutrition, genetics, hormones, medications and of course, exercise. Any weight-bearing activity — like walking, jogging, or weight-lifting — that stretches the bone to work against gravity is a good thing. “Weight-bearing activities stimulate the release of natural growth hormones that will activate your bones to want to be healthy. Also, the physical stress on the bones will help them calcify more,” Beckett explains. As we get older, building flexibility and core strength are just as important as bone strength in order to prevent fractures. “We’re more likely to fall and become injured when we can’t change positions quickly and maintain our balance.” Not only are frail bones at a higher risk of fracture, but they take longer to heal. And, you may not know how weak your bones are until you break them. Beckett’s best advice: “Protect your bones now.”