When I turned 50 a few years ago, I looked in the mirror and said, "Now what?"
That was the start of my new life as a post-50 woman. I wasn't 'fab after 50' right off the bat, mind you. It took a bit of time and work... and a lot of soul searching.
But I had to start somewhere, so I began by taking a really long, cold, hard look at my body. Not just to see how I "looked" necessarily, but how I felt, inside and out. Truth be told, I was a bit out of shape, had gained close to 15 lbs., was a little tired a lot of the time, and imagined that this was what being over 50 was all about.
Appointments with doctors were made, which was something I had put off doing for what seemed like a very long time. Colonoscopy, annual physical, a mammogram and a DEXA bone density test. The works.
A few years earlier, when I was around 47, my doctor sent me for my first DEXA test because I was already perimenopausal and he wanted a baseline. At the time of the test, I was pretending to work out by joining an expensive gym and never going, and that was about it. I was still an Atkins-style eater -- low carbs, very few fruits and veggies, lots of meat and very little calcium. Supplements? None. Vitamin D? Nope. I was still in that delicious "I'm invincible" mode. Remember that?
When Dr. Antoine sat me down to review the results of first bone density test he had a very stern look on his face. My numbers, he told me, were closer to the "borderline" than he was comfortable with, and I needed to take specific actions -- immediately -- if I was going to keep them from going on that slippery slope toward the big "O." Strict orders were given: More calcium-rich foods, 1,500 IU of Vitamin D and strength training every day. Uh-huh, I said. Will do.
But I didn't.
I stayed with my own program -- which was doing nothing -- because I was convinced that I knew better. Like all of you, I was busy with work, kids, friends and life. Who had time to think about it? And I wasn't yet 50, and had gotten so used to excellent health my entire life (with not a single broken or fractured bone, not even a small toe) that I couldn't imagine my bones would actually start to work against me.
Fast forward to that day I looked in the mirror and said, "Now what?" I made the appointment to get my second DEXA test, followed by an appointment with Dr. Antoine to review the results.
Here's what it said: Osteopenia. There it was right on the report, in black print on white paper. Osteopenia.
I didn't feel so very invincible at that moment.
Osteopenia is like the first stop on a train. In a few more stops you're at osteoporosis. And just having osteopenia means you're more apt to actually fracture a bone if you fall. In the few years since my last DEXA, I had done NOTHING at all to prevent this train from chugging down the tracks. The numbers were just slightly below the normal line and not in all areas, but the facts were clear -- in four years I had lost a measurable amount of bone density. A trend had been established, and now the time had come to do everything I could to head off a train wreck.
With my new resolve to get strong and fit for life, I went to the best experts to tell me what to do and how to do it. My goal was to create a program that included cardio to strengthen my heart, lungs and lower body, burn fat and lose (and then maintain) weight; strength-training to build muscle mass and bone density and more activity throughout the week to keep my energy levels up and everything feeling (and looking!) good. All that I learned was put into my book, The Best of Everything After 50, so other women could do exactly what I was doing and hopefully sooner than I did!
A few years went by and last year, at the age of 55, I had my third DEXA test. Result? All the areas that had been labeled "osteopenic" had improved and were in the "normal" range, while those that had been "normal" stayed right where they were. Good news for me, because a few weeks later, I ran the New York City Marathon! There's no way I could have accomplished that feat four years earlier before I started to take charge of my health.
It was fantastic news and served to underscore three important things I learned since becoming a woman over 50:
1. It's never, ever too late to get fitter and healthier.
2. It doesn't take very much to get there.
3. We can't control getting older, but we CAN control how we do it.
I am proud to report that the National Osteoporosis Foundation -- the leading organization devoted to the education, prevention and treatment of bone disease -- has decided that I should get an award! Not because I did such a good job at whipping my bones into shape, but because I write so much about it, inspiring other women over 50 (and younger!) to take control of their bodies and health.
If you're in the New York City area, please consider joining us. I will have the honor of receiving the Generations of Strength Award at the annual "A Gift from Mothers to Daughters Luncheon" (my husband and two teenaged daughters will be in the audience), and the award will be given to me by Gail Sheehy, the internationally acclaimed best-selling author. I am thrilled, proud, excited and nervous (still not sure what to wear!!), and hope to see alot of you at this wonderful event!
In the meantime, take a look at this short video showing probably the single best exercise anyone -- especially those over 50 -- can do to tone and strengthen almost every part of your body. There's no question in my mind (and that of Dr. Antoine's) that doing this every day (in conjunction with running and eating really well) has helped strengthen my muscles and build my bone density. After all, if you're like me, you want to feel good and look good but you don't want to spend hours getting there. Yay!
WATCH: The Plank
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