Fighting Osteoporosis Together

When most people hear the word Osteoporosis, they think of someone old, small, hunched, and using a walker. That’s the image I had as well until I learned the hard way that illness has no age limit.

At age 24 I was diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. My bones were thin and getting fragile. Sections of my bone scan revealed scores that already indicated full osteoporosis in some areas. Injuries I sustained in a car wreck a few months prior were not healing at the rate they should have been. I would never have guess osteoporosis was the reason.

Devastated, I worried about breaking something and how it would affect having children someday. I worried what other people would think, and in my future I saw a big hunchback.

My 58-year-old mother, Millie, was diagnosed with osteoporosis a couple of weeks later. Her bone test scores were higher than mine, meaning they were more brittle. At first she was upset but was soon back to normal. At the time, it was hard for me to understand why she could be so calm, but now, three years later, my mindset has changed.

Being diagnosed was beneficial in more ways than one. It helped me realize that I needed help for an eating disorder. Every day in recovery from the eating disorder is a step toward making myself strong and a chance to reverse the osteopenia. My husband, Kyle Jackson, is a personal trainer at the Jewish Community Center and YMCA. He’s quick to tell clients, “Being diagnosed with osteopenia at a young age is not a death sentence. It a serious wake-up call to better your overall health and well-being before the condition worsens. It’s possible to drastically improve the condition of bone and return it to a normal, healthy bone structure.”

My mom and I share helpful articles and information and support each other. For the most part, though, it’s something we’ve learned to accept and not dwell on. “I don’t feel any different,” my mom says. “Since I know I have it, I’m cautious and avoid high impact exercises. I take extra calcium and vitamin D, but osteo never ruins my day because I don’t let it.”

Two things play a large role in bone health: food and exercise. My biggest struggle has been learning to eat balanced meals and maintaining a normal weight. Eating disorder therapist Jill Hampton claims, “Addressing the potential root of early onset osteoporosis, an eating disorder, is crucial in limiting the long-term impacts of it. If bone loss is detected early, it has much better treatment outcomes.”

OCTOBER 20 IS WORLD OSTEOPOROSIS DAY!
LEARN MORE AT WWW.NOF.ORG

Kyle advises, “Calcium, vitamins D and K, and phosphorus are the primary micronutrients needed for healthy bones. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are good for bone health, but there are many more sources available. Broccoli and various nuts are surprisingly good sources of calcium, while consuming dark, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, contain good amounts of vitamin K.”

The body grows weaker with age, and we lose bone mass. For me, it’s crucial I rebuild my skeletal system as much as possible. For my mom, it’s imperative she prevents hers from worsening. She works out 3-4 times a week and has taught me to avoid exercises that are rough on the body. We both enjoy walking and using small hand weights. I love to exercise with a weighted hula hoop.

Kyle emphasizes, “It’s important to understand what low-impact is. Generally, that means not placing too much stress on the joints. For example, placing a “swiss” ball between you and a wall and performing slow, controlled body squats would be preferable over barbell back squats. It’s best to avoid fast-paced movements that involve jumping, hopping, leaping, etc. Safer and more appropriate activities are walking (especially on a slight incline/decline), carrying weights while walking, resistance training, compound exercises that target large muscle groups (body squats, lunges, dumbbell chest press), as well as using some common weight room machines like the leg press, “lat” pulldown, and seated row.” For clients with osteoporosis Kyle also recommends “walking in a swimming pool, treading water, and low-moderate intensity swimming and yoga workouts.”

I’m thankful to have learned about my condition early, so I have a real chance at turning things around. The truth is that we all have this chance, whether we already have low bone mass or not. The key is starting as early as possible.

5 TIPS TO PREVENT OSTEOPOROSIS

• A healthy diet full of calcium and vitamin D keeps bones strong.

• Sun helps stimulate vitamin D production, which aids in calcium absorption.

• Weight-bearing exercise increases bone density.

• Smoking lowers estrogen levels, meaning weaker bones.

• Excessive sodium can lead to increased bone fragility.

By Susanna Lancaster. Photo by Philip Murphy.

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