Girlfriends and Bone Loss: How Hard Should You Push?

PJ Hamel Health Guide February 01, 2013
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, you know how they can impact your life. But, as with so many health challenges, most of us tend not to think about bone loss – until it’s too late. How far should you push your friends and family to make the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent bone loss? It can be a tricky situation.

     

    I’m not a nag; really, I’m not. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I don’t know it all. That maybe I’m not as smart as I thought. And that “my way or the highway” is never the best answer.

     

    Thus I find it difficult indeed to broach the subject of bone health with my girlfriends, most of whom, like me, are heading into osteoporosis prime time: our 60s.  

     

    Now let me pause just a moment here, and voice what many of you might be feeling: how can we possibly be looking at age 60? There are a lot of us out here, smack-dab in the middle of the Boomer generation, who’ll reach that milestone in the next several years. 

     

    We still think of ourselves as young; well, maybe not young, but certainly not the image of “old” that age 60 inspires. We grew up in the anything-goes ’60s, with its rebellious atmosphere, its drugs, alcohol, protests, and parties. We were young, and strong, and healthy. And in our minds, nothing has changed.

     

    But our bodies tell a different story.

     

    Face it, ladies – we’re getting old, with all that implies. The truth stares us in the face – literally, from the mirror – every morning. Creases and wrinkles, sagging skin, and a body that’s more flab than firm all tell the tale.

     

    But what none of us sees is what’s going on inside. Maybe it’s a few cancer cells in one breast that, in 6 or 8 years, will become a lump that you find one morning in the shower, your heart sinking. But more likely, it’s the inexorable weakening of bones – something all of us experience, to one degree or another.

     

    Your bones have gradually been losing mass since your early 30s; that’s a given, a natural part of the life cycle. What’s harder to predict is just how fast this loss occurs. 

     

    For some of us, it’s very gradual, no more a health problem than gray hair or a slower gait. But for others, bone loss can be precipitous, and serious. It can tip from normal to osteopenia to osteoporosis in the course of just a year or two, the only clue that it’s happened a random DEXA scan, or perhaps a broken bone. 

     

    And suddenly, you find yourself following an uncomfortable regimen of bisphosphonates, questioning whether you dare ride your bike, climb a ladder – or even play tennis or jog.

     

    Osteoporosis stinks. You don’t want to go there, and you don’t wish it on your worst enemy – let alone your friends.

     

    But now that bone loss is your reality, you want to tell EVERYBODY about certain changes they can make RIGHT NOW to keep from going down the rocky path you’re following.

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    When you’re with friends, you’re suddenly itching to ask certain questions. 

     

    “Are you getting enough calcium every day? How about vitamin D?” 

     

    “Are you lifting weights, or at least getting some serious exercise? How much do you drink? And surely you’re not still smoking…” 

     

    “Did you know that, with your slight frame, you’re much more prone to osteoporosis? Does your mother have osteoporosis? Did your grandmother break her hip?”

     

    These aren’t conversational gambits guaranteed to relax and engage. They don’t involve shoes, shopping, relationships, kids, or work. Hip fracture and widow’s hump aren’t subjects we naturally gravitate to.

     

    They’re unpleasant; boring, at best. Like anything involving health and aging, they force us to face our own mortality. And none of us Boomers are willing to do that – yet.

     

    So how DO you open your friends’ eyes to the fact that they might be able to slow their bone loss (and prevent possible osteoporosis) through certain lifestyle changes – without coming across as preaching or, worse yet, nagging?

     

    By example, and gentle advice. 

     

    “Man, I had a tough workout this morning,” you might say. “I lift weights three times a week, to go along with the daily pounding on the treadmill, and today was one of those weight days. I’m beat!”

     

    “Wow, you lift weights? That’s cool,” your friend might answer. “I do spinning and yoga. I was never into weights.”

     

    And there’s your opening. “Did you know lifting weights can help prevent osteoporosis? Yeah, really. I don’t do it just for those Michelle Obama underarms; it’s also great for core strength, for my back and hips. The last thing I want is a broken hip. I’ve seen so many of my mom’s friends break their hip, and a year later they’re gone…”

     

    Another thing that works: as you’re both rummaging in your purses, looking for money to split the check at the coffee shop, pull out your little plastic jar of Viactiv chews.

     

    “Oh, wow, forgot to take my calcium this morning. Better have one of these now. Want one? They’re really yummy.”

     

    And your friend responds, “Oh, you take calcium? I figure I get enough from my diet, but then, I’m not really sure how much we’re supposed to have, at our age. Do you know?”

     

    And there you are again – the perfect segue into a discussion of calcium and vitamin D.

     

    Bone health doesn’t have to involve a lecture. Nor does it have to be a harangue.

     

    Education can be a part of normal conversation; a frequent sidebar, not the main subject. With constant, gentle repetition, the message will be absorbed. 

     

    In the long run (and isn’t that what friendship is all about?), you will have done your small part to keep your pals healthy – without feeling like a nag. And that’s a win-win for all concerned.