“I learned to live with osteoporosis.”

A chance test revealed Jo-Anne Beer’s osteoporosis’a healthy lifestyle helped her maintain her health

Source: Web exclusive: February 2009

At 53, recently retired registered nurse Jo-Anne Beer felt perfectly healthy. The slim, active mother of two grown boys certainly never gave a second thought to the health of her bones. But at a regular check-up, her doctor suggested a bone mineral density test. “Lo and behold, I had osteoporosis.”

The news was a huge surprise to Beer, who says that she, like most other people, mistakenly thought of osteoporosis—a disease that weakens bones, making them susceptible to fractures—as an “old lady” condition. The inquisitive nurse knew she needed to do some homework before her anxiety spiralled out of control.

The breaking point

“I was a little frightened that day,” says Beer. “I didn’t know what osteoporosis involved. I didn’t like the sound of it. ‘Brittle bones’ is not a good thing.” Not one to be melodramatic, she adds, “I knew once I had all the facts, I would be fine with it.”

The challenge

To do all she could to stabilize her bone health—and not allow a fear of broken bones to limit her lifestyle.

The plan

Beer began taking a prescription medicine once a week. Reluctant to rely solely on supplements to increase her calcium and vitamin D intake, she made a point of eating more foods rich in both, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon and green vegetables. While she had been doing cardio exercises regularly at the gym for years, she became a member of a local Curves to get more bone-building weight-bearing exercise on the gym’s circuit machines. “It was also more convenient, and when it comes to exercise, that’s half the battle.”

The biggest obstacle

“I still have to keep reminding myself not to do certain movements,” Beer says, “such as twisting, bending over from the waist down and lifting objects over my head.” She has had a couple of falls since being diagnosed, but she was lucky—there were no broken bones. “You definitely have to be more aware of your body and what you are doing at all times.”

The results

Healthy lifestyle modifications and medication can typically stabilize bone loss; Beer actually managed to boost her bone density slightly within two years of her diagnosis. Today, the 59-year-old stays active with golfing, swimming, walking and gardening. She also began volunteering at the 1-800 line at Osteoporosis Canada. “Working with people who have osteoporosis is a wonderful support,” she says. “When people call in newly diagnosed, they often think they can’t do anything physical anymore. I reassure them that after you take calcium and vitamin D, and exercise and take your medication, you just have to get on with life.”

The tips

Spread out the calcium
Because our bodies are able to absorb only 500 mg of calcium at a time, Beer suggests getting calcium from food first, then supplementing for a total of 1,500 mg per day (or the amount recommended by your doctor). She drinks two glasses of milk a day, in addition to consuming other dairy products. “I also carry calcium chews in my purse,” she says. “If I am out for dinner and I didn’t get enough calcium that day or in my meal, I have one.”

Get into a routine
Beer made sure to develop a routine as a reminder to take her once-weekly medication. “I take it on garbage days, so I am up and about for 30 or 40 minutes and can take it before I eat.”

Pump it up
In addition to hitting the gym, Beer also purchased some hand weights, and at-home exercise videos, to strengthen her muscles (and help protect her bones) when she feels she needs more activity—especially in the winter.

Concerned about osteoporosis? It’s never to early to work on prevention. Read about how you can get stronger bones at any age.

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