"I Am Beating Osteoporosis!"
Sandy F. has lived with osteoporosis for 10 years, and she’s as active as ever—exercising, working, traveling and caring for her grandson. Here's her story—and compelling advice.
In 2001, then 50-year-old Sandy F. was told by her doctor that she had osteoporosis. “I was so surprised when the bone density test came back with the results that I went for a second test because I thought it was wrong,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any symptoms, and I felt that I was way too young to have this problem.”
The next round came back with the same results. That’s when Sandy, of Denville, NJ, thought about her mother, who not only was diagnosed with this condition at age 70 but also had been on meds since that time. “I was mostly upset with the idea of being on a prescription medication for the rest of my life,” admits Sandy. “I have a sensitive stomach, and I was afraid that the side effects would make me ill.”
For six years, Sandy chose to forgo traditional treatment and instead focus on eating a low-fat diet consisting of fruits and vegetables. She also added fish to her diet after reading numerous studies about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, known to reduce joint inflammation and increase the body’s levels of calcium, which can strengthen bones. “I figured that none of these dietary changes could hurt,” she says.
Sandy also made it a point to continue to be physically active, usually opting for walks with her husband, in order to keep her bones strong, and she also became extra-careful when it came to her balance. “I have become conscious of falling and possibly breaking bones, so I don’t take any chances,” she explains. For example, even though she was capable of going up and down a flight of stairs in a few seconds, she now took each step one at a time.
In 2005, Sandy’s gynecologist convinced her that it was time to start taking meds, and she finally gave in. After the first prescription didn’t work for her, Sandy’s doctor offered her another one, but before taking it, she did her own research. “I couldn’t find any bad reviews about the medicine, so I agreed to take it.”
These days, Sandy, now 60, is still taking her medication and is happy to report no side effects. She is as busy and active as ever—working, traveling, socializing with friends, babysitting her grandson and, of course, exercising. Sandy walks at least three miles four times a week, and uses the treadmill in the winter for at least 40 minutes three times a week.
According to her latest bone density test, her condition has slightly improved. “My doctor was concerned that the disease was going to progress, but that hasn’t happened,” she says. “I’m thrilled that I haven’t broken any bones, which my doctor was also concerned about. Just knowing that my bones have shown improvement has been a relief!”
- Don’t be afraid of medicine. Sandy didn’t like the idea of being on meds for the rest of her life, and that's why she resisted treatment for nearly six years. “But once I was honest with my doctor about my fears, mainly because of my sensitive stomach, we found the right medicine for me.”
- Consume your calcium. Sandy strives to eat calcium-rich foods, like low-fat yogurt and cheese, since studies show that this mineral is tied to building and maintaining strong bones. She also takes chewable calcium squares. “The chewables don’t affect my stomach, and they’re also nice to snack on.”
- Take the test, especially if you’re a candidate. Sandy knew she was at risk for osteoporosis because her mother has it and she herself is thin and small framed. “I was upset with my diagnosis at first, so I put off doing something about it. It’s a quick and non-invasive test. Don’t play around with your health. Take control, talk with your doctor and do something thing positive about it.”
- Don’t give in. Sandy refuses to allow osteoporosis to take over her life. “The way I see it, there are so many worse ailments that I could have, but this one is manageable,” she says. “Plus, I look at my mother, who is 84 and playing golf up to three times a week as proof that someone can be active while living with osteoporosis.”