It’s true. I had a very early menopause at 36.
Undiagnosed for nearly 2 years after my son’s birth, I was robbed of estrogen – that reliable hormonal ‘bone bank’ for women. So I wasn’t in good shape. But my bones would have degenerated much faster if not for my steep-hill walking routine.
I was prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT); the tablets contained both estrogen and progesterone. A bone mineral density (BMD) test confirmed I was at medium-to-high risk of developing osteoporosis.
As my wise friend and physiotherapist, Kate, wrote to explain it:
‘Bone mass produced from childhood, peaks at 25–30 years in both sexes. After this point, and from 30 on, the amount of bone in the skeleton begins to decline slowly.’
My calcium intake was low even up to the age of 30. Growing up in Singapore, the ‘milk’ we drank was either reconstituted or powdered; we drank very little anyway. Cheese was highly processed, boxed or canned, very salty, and imported mainly from Australia and the UK. Not like the lovely Australian natural cheeses I have now. Yoghurt? Didn’t hear of it.
Even with Mum’s calcium tablets, my bone mass couldn’t reach acceptable levels. Lack of exercise and dairy foods, a low body weight and now worst of all early menopause, gradually contributed to my ‘porous bones’. I had little left in my bank to help stabilise this bone loss. (I will expand on menopause and osteoporosis (the latter also common in men), in MOVE! 3.0.)
So does EXERCISE hold the key to bone health and LONGEVITY in general?
Nick, who appears with trainer Dirk Hansen in one of our videos, has been a regular at the gym 5 days a week for the last 20 years without missing a day. I’ve met Nick: he’s 80, active, energetic and always has a smile!
So my advice to you is this:
In her 2013 piece with The Sydney Morning Herald, Paula Goodyer quoted neuropsychologist Nicola Gates:
‘People who exercise have better cognitive function, especially memory and executive function (brain skills involved in organisation, planning and judgments) and lower dementia risk.
‘While our brains shrink with age there’s evidence regular exercise can help counteract this by increasing the numbers of brain cells and the connections between them, along with the extra blood flow needed to sustain this new growth.’1
Once my hormones kicked in (it took a month to really feel better), I could take my morning walks to a new level. I knew it was either that or brittle, weakening bones. I maintained a rhythm of running 30 seconds, walking to recover and running again for almost an hour 4 to 5 days a week. I was actually practising High Intensity Interval Training (HIT) well before it was in!
I chose to start work at 9am instead of 8.30. I gave HR a medical certificate, and said it was either that or more sick days. I now needed to get my bone density close to normal or average. Thankfully, the BMD test 6 months later showed marked improvement.
But a year later, I found I was trying on size 10 pants, up from a size 8. Oh well, I shrugged. It wouldn’t do any harm if I went a little over 45kg.
However, it took only a few months before size 12 felt more comfortable. This time, I left the pair I was trying on in the changeroom. NO … I was definitely not buying a 12! I was now hitting 48kg, and for one 1.52m tall, it wasn’t good news. Fifty kilos and 14 loomed large if I didn’t act quickly.
I realised HRT was contributing to my weight gain – most evident around my waist and tummy. I needed to exercise more, but which to choose?
I discovered Judith Wills’ book A flat stomach in 15 days at a garage sale. How amazing that when you have a goal, a path lights up to show you the way! I so loved the book, and referred to it in my ‘Diet and Your Colon’ section. One sentence struck me especially:
‘Without strong “abdominals” your stomach will never be really flat.’ 2
Wow. At the time, I believed the hospital exercises I was given were only for the first few weeks after childbirth. So I actually needed to strengthen my ‘abs’?
I read the chapter from Wills’ book again. She used a grading system: you do Grade 2 only when you’re comfortable with Grade 1. Judith explained why a particular exercise was good and how to do it properly. I followed her instructions, chose a smallish quiet room, bought an exercise mat and a small flat cushion to support my head. Have a look the exercises3 :
The flat-stomach promise was for 40 minutes every day for 3 weeks. I had to avoid ‘negative foods’ – i.e. refined starch foods. Completely in tune with all that Dr Walker talked about. I identified my daily devotion to rice; I had to reduce it for that flat stomach.
TAKE COMFORT – it wasn’t easy for me. I could only manage 1 hour on the mat once a week: that’s why it took me 3 months instead of 15 days! But I got that flat stomach, and came down to a size 10. After another year of walking, the mat exercises and of course the right, consistent diet, I revisited my size 8 wardrobe. It was so glad to see me!
I’ve stuck with this program for over 25 years now. It still worked – but being ‘Shirley’, I knew I had to do more. I wasn’t building any real muscular strength and my posture was still slouchy.
We’re now muscling in to MOVE! 3.0. I’ll expand on HRT, give you men and women help with osteoporosis, and why I had to take my next big step later in life to join a gym.
1 Goodyer, P. (2013, August 3). ‘Let The Mind Games Begin’. The Sydney Morning Herald.
2 Wills, J. (1990). A flat stomach in 15 days, p.83. Sphere Books Ltd: London.
3 Wills, pp. 102–103.
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