When Betty Bullock was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1997, at the age of
66, it was a shock. She’d always been healthy and active, an avid athlete who
plays tennis, swims, walks her dogs, and dances.
“I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’” says the 76-year-old
great-grandmother, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. “I had assumed I didn’t have
to worry about osteoporosis since I was so healthy and my mother had never had
But the genes on the other side of Bullock’s family may have betrayed her:
Her father lost a lot of height in his later years and even had a small hump on
his back. “My doctor told me, ‘You didn’t do anything. It has to be heredity in
And her life on the move had paid off, after all. Bullock realized all those
years of staying active had probably protected her from injury even as her
bones weakened. In her 50s, when traveling with her daughter in San Francisco,
she tripped and nearly took a serious tumble -- but caught herself. “Good
recovery, Mom -- you must have good ankles!” her daughter said.
Weight-bearing exercise also benefits bones directly, says Bullock’s doctor,
Michael Lewiecki, MD, who directs the New Mexico Clinical Research &
Osteoporosis Center. “It stimulates growth both in the bones that bear the
weight and in the muscles attached to those bones. Strong leg muscles mean we
may be less likely to fall because, like Betty, if we stumble, we can catch
ourselves.” Not only does weight-bearing exercise prevent bone loss, but there
is some evidence it even can help build new bone.
Balance and Osteoporosis
Bullock also has good balance. And that, Lewiecki says, probably keeps
Bullock on her feet and out of the emergency room with a broken bone.
Once Bullock was diagnosed, Lewiecki prescribed weight training in addition
to her regular activities. She now trains on Nautilus machines. Other good
workouts for people with osteoporosis are walking, yoga, and t’ai chi.
Both Bullock and Lewiecki believe that, although exercising didn’t keep her
from developing osteoporosis, she’d be in a lot worse shape had she lived a
sedentary life. “I think I’m much better off having exercised all this time,”
Bullock says. “We weren’t built to do nothing.”
Michael Lewiecki, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, University
of New Mexico School of Medicine and Osteoporosis Director, New Mexico Clinical
Research & Osteoporosis Center, Albuquerque, N.M.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases,
“Preventing Falls and Related Fractures,” August 2005.