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 it.”
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 your case.’”
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.