SALT LAKE CITY — Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because it usually attacks a person's body without any symptoms. If bone loss isn’t caught soon enough, the consequences could be tragic.
Nancy Carroll,71, loves to work out, but after a tragic incident last summer she’s resigned to watching from the sidelines while she recovers. Three months ago she lost her balance and fell during class. She broke her right femur in half.
"It was very painful," Carroll said. “I had to have a rod installed. It goes from my ... hip joint almost down to my knee."
Carroll has been fighting against brittle bones for decades. She was diagnosed with osteoporosis about 30 years ago.
"My doctor noticed that I had lost about an inch in height,” she recalled.
Carroll immediately increased her calcium, vitamin D and estrogen intake. She tried several different medications and for the first time in her life, she started exercising.
"I honestly didn't understand the importance or the consequence of not doing so,” she admitted.
Intermountain Healthcare's Megan Calder, an exercise physiologist at Park City’s LiVe Well Center, said women with low bone density are more prone to injury. However, she said participating in weight-bearing exercise can help prevent fractures.
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Calder said strength training increases bone density. “Because as you're pulling on the muscle, it's pulling on the ligaments, it's pulling on the bone. That's what helps increase the density of the bone," she said.
Calder encourages women to start lifting weights — even if only a couple pounds.
“It doesn't mean you need to be picking up 10-pound weights or 15-pound weights,” she explained. “But in order to get the benefit of muscle building, you need to make sure that you're getting the amount of reps that is going to actually help increase muscle mass.”
Calder said building overall strength will help prevent someone from falling. "Because, obviously, again, the more muscle mass they have, the stronger they are, the better posture they're going to have, the better they are at balance,” she said.
I tell everybody, if you get too tired put the weight down … you can flex that muscle and create resistance without having any weight in your hand.
–Michelle Salm, fitness instructor
Calder said eating calcium-rich foods is also really important. She said dairy and meat are good sources of calcium but also encourages people to eat include plant-based choices, “like the spinach and the kale and the nuts and the beans,” she suggested.
While the fall was devastating, Carroll is grateful she was in shape. "If I hadn't been working out as much as I was already, I couldn't have recovered as fast as I have,” she said.
Carroll's instructor, Michelle Salm, tells women who aren’t currently staying active to just start. “Ninety-nine percent of exercise is just getting up to do it,” she said.
Salm said any exercise — like a lunge, a bicep curl, or an upright row — is effective even without weights for stimulating bone growth. She suggests picking up lighter weights and increasing the repetitions to improve muscular endurance.
“I tell everybody, if you get too tired put the weight down … you can flex that muscle and create resistance without having any weight in your hand,” she said.
Today Carroll is on the road to recovery and hopes to be back in class soon. "I have to because it's critical for my health, my age,” she explained.
"She's amazing! She's done a great job and I hope to see her soon. I miss her!" Salm expressed.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation encourages all women age 65 and older to visit their doctor for a routine DEXA scan to measure their bone density.
Calder said this is especially important since women who go through menopause are at an increased risk of osteoporosis.