Strong to the Bone
I will never forget former Texas Governor Anne Richardson telling Larry King why she decided to finally start working out after years of self-neglect. With sadness in her voice, she recounted how she\’d watched her mom literally break up in painful pieces from her osteoporosis. Hunched over with collapsing vertebrae, her mom eventually died from the consequences of this inexorable bone thinning.
Richardson took this whole experience as a wakeup call. She saw in her mom her own destiny. So, she cleaned up her diet, stopped alcohol consumption, and concentrated on calcium-rich foods. Every day she would do weight-bearing exercises like walking and jogging. Off to the gym she went to lift weights and strengthen her bones. The end result was a trimmer, stronger woman who was now beautiful inside and out.
I am watching the same thing happen to my mother. At 90, she\’s in much better shape than Richardson\’s mother. But, she too has osteoporosis and the fractures to prove it— two hip replacements and a wrist that requiring pinning. I\’m watching my own bone density scans carefully. As a strength-trained athlete who has lifted weights and run marathons, I\’ve prided myself on pretty strong bones. But, I also know that if I stop taking my calcium supplements, and get careless with my exercise and diet, I\’ll start down that path toward brittle bones.
Actually, I\’m so interested in this space that I partnered with my pals at the American Medical Women\’s Association to do a survey of 1,000 women who have the diagnosis of osteoporosis. Although they all said that their goal is to live long and well, 60% of them were not doing the recommended weight-bearing activities.
Hey, you say one thing and you\’re doing another? What gives? I know–it\’s all about getting distracted by life\’s everyday obligations and commitments. And priorities as well. The survey found that the majority of women are more likely to keep a salon appointment than a bone-density obligation. Where are your priorities? I think that the majority of women really don\’t understand the seriousness of osteoporosis.
Check this out. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women over the age of 50 will sustain an osteoporosis-related fracture. But wait, there\’s more. 20% of people over the age of 50 who sustain an osteoporosis hip fracture will die that year from complications related to the fracture. OK, I got your attention with that last factoid. So, what do you need to do?
First, get a bone density scan and start meds if you need them. You need to know where you are. You may have terrific bones now. Or, you may have osteopenia, or early thinning of the bones. It\’s time to clean up your lifestyle to halt any further progression. If you have osteoporosis, sit down with your doctor and figure out which therapeutic option is best for you. There are medications you can take that include a daily, weekly, monthly and even a once yearly option (a once-a-year 15-minute infusion that is now available).
Second, get movin\’. That means do some form of weight-bearing activity every day that you can. Do it for at least 30 minutes. Quite frankly, just plain get up and move as much as you can throughout the day. Like pennies in a piggy bank, you\’ll accrue lots of bone strengthening physical activities. Lift weights twice a week as well.
Third, include calcium supplements and calcium-rich foods in your diet.
Fourth, eliminate or minimize habits that weaken your bones: Drink carbonated beverages and alcohol in moderation, and stop smoking.
Fifth, know your genes. If you\’re a petite Asian or Caucasian woman, you\’re at higher risk for osteoporosis. Also, check out your family line. I did and found out my mom as well as grandmother and aunts all had osteoporosis.
The Bottom Line: If you want to live long and well, you need to have a strong body to carry you through those wonderful and challenging days. If you\’re young, start living a bone-healthy lifestyle now. If you\’re over 40, get to it as well. It\’s absolutely never too late to become strong to the bone!