Sticks and Stones and Names for Brittle Bones


The nurse said my bone density test showed osteopenia, the beginning stages of bone loss. My doctor was prescribing a once-a-week pill for a year; then we’d do another bone scan to see how things looked.

“If it checks my bone loss, could I quit taking it?” I asked. I had never taken medication for a prolonged period other than using inhalers for occasional asthma.

“No.” She said her mother, who is in her 80s, is on the same Fosamax and, to her knowledge, you don’t stop taking it.

Sitting somewhere around my shoulders, my little conscience said, “Hello. It’s middle age. Didn’t you expect something like this?”

I checked on Fosamax in a prescription drug reference. Fairly new, approved by the FDA in ’95, no other treatment has proven as effective in increasing bone density. Take it on an empty stomach with plenty of fluid and remain upright for a time – can cause esophagal irritation…blah, blah, blah.

Days later, a thick, little brown envelope lay atop our mail in the box. Nurse Beth had sent me every pamphlet about osteoporosis, Fosamax, and other related topics she could find. What made me at risk for osteoporosis? Everything in the booklet: being white, of petite build, with a family history of osteoporosis, having several caffeinated drinks a day and too little calcium or Vitamin D, having broken bones from an injury, and taking medicines like steroids for asthma. The only redeeming factor is I don’t smoke. Surely something other than pills could help.

I remembered Miriam Nelson’s book, Strong Women Stay Young. I referred to it in a column months ago and received some feedback from readers who were interested. Dr. Nelson designed a program to strengthen muscle and bone using free weights in two 40 minute excercise sessions a week. I had read through her outline, tried it out, then moved on to other workouts. Maybe it was time to take another look.

Using only dumbbells, ankle weights, a chair, and room on all sides to move around the chair freely, her routine is easy to learn (adjustable weights are best since you begin light and work up from two pounds to 15 or 20).There are eight basic exercises – that’s all – with other suggestions to tailor the program to individual needs and maintain benefits. This time, I’m giving it a longer shot.

The showdown doesn’t begin and end at high noon, but hand me a double holster. With ankle weight spurs, I’ll hang a hand weight from each side and clip my bottle of Fosamax in an ammo loop. On the count of three, “Ready, aim…”


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