Exercising Power

Exercising Power

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!


The letter arrived in a pristine white business envelope with my doctor’s name printed in the upper left corner. There should have been a warning stamped on it to alert me to its life-changing contents.

Dear Gloria,

Your bone density test suggests osteopenia, which is a lower-than-normal bone mineral density and precursor to osteoporosis. Please make an appointment with my office to discuss treatment options.

Stuck behind the typed letter was another sheet of paper printed with the outline of a woman’s anatomy, shaded around the hips and knees to indicate potential “hot spots” of porous bones.

I slumped into my chair, stunned and afraid my next step might snap a bone. I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the memory of my mother’s incessant pain from collapsed vertebrae and my grandmother’s broken hip. Both suffered the consequences of osteoporosis.

There must have been a mistake. I’d always been healthy. Thin-framed with long, lean limbs. I weighed only 128, a mere eighteen pounds more than my freshman year in college, almost forty years earlier. Who else can say that? I protested to the health gods.

Yet it was time to face the reality I had ignored — I was getting older. I had trusted that exercising three times a week while eating lean meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and avoiding sweets would keep me ageless like Peter Pan. I had only a tiny potbelly where extra weight had settled over my 5’7” frame.

My physician prescribed alendronate to prevent further bone deterioration and suggested weight-bearing exercise along with vitamin D and 1200 mg of calcium per day.

My husband and daughter, the real health nuts in our family, helped me transform my habits. Along with the alendronate and calcium supplements, I drank calcium-enriched orange juice, ate a yogurt daily and choked down broccoli with supper.

Up until this point, I exercised inconsistently after work. More often than not, I was drained of energy by the time I dragged my body through the door and usually just excused myself to assume a couch-potato pose. But now with new resolve, I increased my on-again, off-again exercise sessions to a disciplined thirty minutes every morning before work, five days a week. Two days with weights, Saturday power walks with my husband, and two days with aerobics. I danced with Kathy Smith, ponied with Jane Fonda and marched with Leslie Sansone, all in the name of stronger, healthier bones.

Eight months after launching my mission to prevent further bone loss, my progress came to an abrupt halt. I had to undergo surgery for a twisted colon. Traveling to the emergency room doubled over in severe pain that refused to subside after twenty-four hours, the doctor looked bewildered at the X-rays. He stood at the foot of the bed and matter-of-factly described the diagnosis. I will never forget his concluding pronouncement.

“This happens mainly in older people.”

There was that word again... old. My body was aging whether I liked it or not.

Back home, I was restricted for the next eight weeks to walking short distances at a slow pace while I regained strength and stamina. Power protein bars supplemented my meals to accelerate the healing process.

Another two months later, I returned to my doctor for an annual check-up, including the bone density test to determine progress. I worried that the interruption of surgery unraveled any advance I’d made against osteopenia.

The letter arrived a week later in the same pristine white business envelope. I slid my fingers under the flap and braced for the results.

Dear Gloria,

Your osteopenia is stabilized. There is no significant change indicated by the bone density test. Some spots are actually more positive. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.

I Snoopy-danced in victory around the kitchen table, then grabbed the letter again to finish reviewing other test results.

However, your total cholesterol is borderline and above the preferred upper range limit. Please make an appointment to see me and discuss treatment options.

My aging heart sank. I fell victim again to family history. Doctors diagnosed my mother with high cholesterol when she was in her forties. My sister had recently begun medication for the same condition.

Hoping to avoid medication, I bargained. “What do you think about me first trying to drop my cholesterol through diet and exercise? I’m just getting my routines back on track since surgery.” Knowing the discipline with which I tackled osteopenia, my doctor agreed.

I added a sixth day to my workouts and set a goal weight of 120 pounds. My husband, who was the cook in our family, modified our meals. For lunch, frozen meals with cholesterol-producing high saturated fat became turkey sandwiches and carrots along with the usual apple and banana. I sacrificed two squares of Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate in exchange for one peanut butter cracker sandwich for a mid-morning snack. Chicken, turkey, and salmon (the only fish I tolerated) showed up for dinner instead of red meat. My husband even prepared spaghetti sauce with ground turkey rather than hamburger, a surprisingly tasty change. I cut about 300 calories out of my daily diet.

An article on the Internet about cholesterol-busting foods prompted further adjustments to my eating habits. Breakfast became a concoction of high-fiber cereal, organic blueberries and seven or eight walnuts, all sprinkled with a teaspoon of ground flax seed. I dipped toasted wheat bread in virgin olive oil with dinner and cut out extra juices that added sugar to my daily intake.

After three months of strictly adhering to the new diet and exercise routine, my weight dropped to 117 pounds, three lighter than goal. I returned to my doctor to determine progress.

A week later, the letter arrived in a pristine white business envelope. I slid my fingers under the flap and braced for the results.

Dear Gloria,

Although still on the high end, your total cholesterol slipped into the allowed normal range, and the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol is acceptable. There is no change in your bone density test, indicating the osteopenia is stable.


So, for now, my attack against the “aging body” syndrome continues. I pound the ground with aerobic workouts, stick to foods that prevent fatty build-up, and take calcium supplements. With any luck, I’ll exercise power over family history and slide through my seventies, and beyond, fit enough to conquer anything that comes my way.

~ Gloria Ashby ~

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