In her busy job as a nursing coordinator, Liz Bross is always on the go. Fortunately, she paused long enough for a bone density scan, a test that measures the strength of bones.
“The scan showed that osteoporosis was evident,” she recalls. “I wasn’t completely surprised, because I knew that I had several risk factors.”
Bross, 58, is tall, slender and white, three indicators that put her at greater risk for osteoporosis — a serious condition that contributes to hip fractures and other breaks that can lead to disability or early death. White and Asian women are significantly more likely to develop osteoporosis than blacks or Hispanics. Women most often develop osteoporosis after menopause.
Her doctor prescribed bisphosphonate therapy to help reverse the bone loss process. But Bross was concerned about the possible side effects of the regimen, including a risk for unusual femur fractures among patients who take the medication for many years.
“You have to tell your dentist if you are taking it because it can impact your jaw,” she says.
There is debate as to whether the positive effects of the medication outweigh the risks. After lots of research, Bross decided to stop bisphosphonate therapy and treat her osteoporosis through exercise — specifically strength training.
Studies have produced encouraging results. A 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University in Boston determined that the women gained 1 percent in hip and spine bone density with just two days a week of progressive strength training. Further, they benefited from a 75-percent increase in strength. Dynamic balance improved 13 percent.
The women who didn’t do strength training sustained continued losses in bone, strength and balance.
“I made a choice,” Bross recalls. “I was going to do whatever I could to help myself.”
She began with working out on the treadmill and elliptical machines at the fitness center at Christiana Hospital. Then she built up to making the full circuit of 12 weight-training machines, a one-hour loop. In addition, she takes strength-training classes twice a week that combine weights and aerobic exercise, working with Susan Beamish, a fitness instructor.
“I bring my gym clothes to work, and I don’t leave the building until my workout is done,” Bross says.
Beamish says that high level of commitment and consistency is required to achieve significant gains.
“Strength training isn’t something you do whenever you feel like it,” she says. “You have to put in the time, and Liz was willing to do that.”
In addition to exercise, eating low-fat dairy products that are rich in calcium are part of her regular routine.
“I love cottage cheese, yogurt and all kinds of cheeses,” she says.
Two years after her initial bone scan, Bross returned for a follow-up test.
“How does that osteoporosis look?” she asked.
“You don’t have osteoporosis,” was the reply.
Bross is delighted at her progress and is determined to keep up the good work.
“We do have a say in our own well-being,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to do all I can to stay healthy.”