The health topic for the class was Osteoporosis. The statistics are daunting – especially for women in their late 80s / early 90s – which is the majority of my class. The risk factor for women is 50%. One out of two women will have an osteoporosis related fracture in her lifetime. For men is it 25% and growing.
I gave out a handout that contained 2 photos – one showing healthy bone – the other with osteoporosis. “Oh my goodness” said one of my students – “is that what my bones look like?”
Photo from An invitation to Health 2009-2010 edition, by Dianne Hales; chapter 20 pg 567.
We spoke about risk factors – gender, family history, petite body structure, white or Asian ethnicity, low calcium intake, sedentary lifestyle. We also talked about prevention – including increasing calcium and vitamin D intake and exercise. One woman – who had many of the risk factors and clearly suffered from osteoporosis – exclaimed, “but is there anything we can do about it? At our age? Isn’t it a little late to discuss prevention?” I found out later that she had lost over 6 inches to osteoporosis.
I told her that I thought she brought up an important question. People often feel discouraged and feel that they ‘can’t cure age’. Doctors often tell them just that – but it is not true that there is ‘nothing they can do’.
“Exercise is important” I told her. “Especially weight bearing, which is why I am going to introduce weights to our exercise routine.” The health class includes a 20-30 minute chair exercise routine. Up until now I hadn’t been using weights – and wanted the students to understand their value.
I said the research has shown that exercise will increase bone mass and strength and will also reduce the risk of falling. I added that Vitamin D and calcium can have substantial effects on bone mass and fragility fractures in the elderly population. (http://geriatrics.uthscsa.edu/tools/OsteoRx.pdf).
Many of us resist exercising. It can be hard to be motivated, but it is especially hard if you are in pain or feel there is no point. Learning is not just for the young. Every stage of life requires learning new skills and integrating new information. Understanding more about you body and health needs.
After that discussion about osteoporosis my students were very enthusiastic. They put a lot of effort into the exercise routine and even asked for heavier weights next time. They are – and continue to be – an inspiration.