Throughout a full life with family and a demanding career, I did my best to stay fit, eat well and keep on top of health issues. But I did not think at all about bone density issues, even though I learned much later that I had a family history of osteoporosis.
When I was in my late 40s, I had the great good fortune to be referred to a wonderful gynecologist, who sent me for bone mineral density tests. I was under his care for about 14 years and I know that he had a transformative impact on my life. The other good stroke of luck I had was to be referred to the Bone Density Program (now the Centre for Osteoporosis and Bone Health) at Women’s College Hospital (WC) in Toronto.
It was then I first learned that I had bone density issues and would need to do all I could to manage this for the rest of my life. I wanted to avoid the serious effects not doing so could have on my health, mobility, independence and quality of life. I learned that I had osteopenia (now called low bone mass), a condition that begins as you lose bone mass and your bones start to get weaker. I learned that it is very common as you age. And I learned that people who have osteopenia are at a higher risk of having osteoporosis. But I was determined to try to stop my bones from deteriorating further if I possibly could.
So what did I do? And how have I tried to deal with this over the last 20 plus years?
First of all, I tried to find out all that I could about osteoporosis and bone density, to really understand what was happening to my bones and to understand how I could try to manage my own condition. I found an excellent source of information and self-management advice online at the Osteoporosis Canada website.
I knew I had to focus on diet, exercise and regular monitoring of my bone density. I drink lots of milk and eat yogurt, canned salmon with the bones, leafy greens and lots of fruit and vegetables. I try to make sure that I have protein at each meal through my day. I’m pretty good at managing my caffeine intake to the recommended level though not always as good at keeping to the recommendation on wine intake! I eat very little added salt or sugar and try to follow Osteoporosis Canada’s recommendations on calcium (getting it from my diet) and Vitamin D (through daily supplementation). Magnesium, vitamin K and potassium are also good for bone health. I try to get these through my diet. I’m really lucky that these are my favourite types of foods anyway, which makes it easier. And I’ll own up to never meeting a good French fry I didn’t like and potato chips are a big weakness!
I try to stay very active and to focus on weight-bearing high impact exercise. I love walking with my dog, Poppy, and usually find through my Fitbit that I walk between 12,000 and 15,000 steps in a regular day. I play tennis when I can and ski in the winter. And I do try to include both core work and strength training with free weights or using my body weight in my regular workouts. Sometimes I don’t get to those workouts when I’m really busy, to be truthful, but I know how important these are so I always seem to get back on track!
For many years, I took an osteoporosis medication on the recommendation of my doctor but then came off it some years ago when my bone density seemed to stabilize. I try to stay up to date on new available drugs.
Sometimes, in spite of all this, I have been discouraged when I lost bone mass from bone mineral density (BMD) test to BMD test. My husband Tom was great when this happened. He would say: “Just think how much worse it would have been if you did not do all the things you do to help yourself!” And, of course, he was right.
So where am I now after all these years of trying to manage my bone density challenges? As of my last test in October 2020, my results proved that my bone density has remained generally stable – which puts me in the low to moderate fracture risk category. This is great news for me, since when my mother was in her 70s, she broke her pelvis as a result of low bone density. My mother did not have the great advantage of the knowledge that is available to us all now. But I do and I plan to try my best to have this come out differently for me.
In summary, what is working for me are a bone healthy diet; regular weight-bearing exercise along with strength training; ongoing consults with my healthcare provider; and keeping up to date and taking advantage of the excellent information available on Osteoporosis Canada’s website.
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