Senior Citizen Exercise Class – Yes, I’m In It!!

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Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, the recreation center gym in the town where I live is lined with chairs for a free Senior Citizen Exercise Class. My friend, Anne, talked and nudged and encouraged me for months, maybe even a year or longer, to meet her there to exercise with her.

I had enough excuses not to go stashed in my arsenal to last a lifetime, or at least what I thought I had left of my lifetime, but she was persistent. Finally, last fall I told her I’d go. But on one condition – she would meet me there and show me what to do. I was NOT going to walk into that gym by myself, not knowing anyone. Being the introvert that I am, it is very difficult for me to go into a new environment where everybody is a stranger or where I don’t understand the ropes of what is expected of me. Anne agreed to my demands, and told me she would look for me the following Tuesday. She assured me that it would be lots of fun, that we would be on the back row, and that nobody would care if I made mistakes in learning the exercise routines.

So, I went. When I entered the gym, Anne was looking for me and caught my attention. My God! There must have been close to 100 people in the room, all milling around and talking – some were walking laps – while waiting for the instructor to arrive. Anne had gotten there early, as I would learn that she always does, to claim a row of chairs on the back row for her and her buddies. If I hadn’t spotted her, I would have turned around and walked out, from the sheer numbers of strange old people I saw, all of official “senior citizen” age, with an abundance of white hair.

Anne introduced me to a handful of women who had staked their claim near us. I was soon to find out that the chairs were primarily there as place holders. Occasionally an exercise would require sitting or holding on for balance, but mostly their purpose was to hold water bottles and keep us (or me, mostly, as my new buddies were soon to learn!) from running into each other during an exercise routine. I liked these women immediately, and they seemed to be happy that I had joined their little tribe at the back of the gym.

I’ve been going to exercise class now for 9 months. I’ve just about learned all of the routines to the groovy songs that our instructor selected for us. It’s my kind of music – a lot of 60’s rock n roll, with a bit of a more modern mix that has a good beat stirred into the pot. I still turn the wrong way from time to time, forget what I’m supposed to do next, and kick the wrong leg out in front of me – hence, another purpose for the chairs. They keep me from running into my neighbor and doing bodily harm to anyone. I have a really good time, and nobody seems to care that I head in the wrong direction a few times each week!

Along with overcoming my shyness, I have met some remarkable women who I probably would not have met if it weren’t for Tuesday and Friday mornings. While the class is co-ed, and there are a number of men who exercise with us, the majority is female, women who are concerned about their health, eager to ward off old-age as long as they can, and who want life to stay active, interesting, and fun!

They say that growing older is only for the very strong and brave. I agree with the statement, but have to add that growing older is also for those of us who want to be really alive, to experience new adventures, meet new friends, and share our life stories.

Exercise class is one of the best things that has come my way in quite awhile! Thank you, Anne, for never letting up with that prod to get me there!

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Over The Moon This Morning With My New Toy!

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That’s where I am now. I am the proud new owner of a Fitbit, and I am now counting my steps and tracking other life activities, even my sleep patterns. I’ve had it for five days now. This thing is amazing! It knows more about me than I know about myself! This little wrist device fascinates me, as well as inspires me to keep moving. I’ve been a walker for years – I’ve just never paid much attention to all the stuff the Fitbit does for me. It’s a new toy, I know, but it’s fun!

I fooled it this morning, however. While on my morning walk, I ventured into a subdivision I haven’t visited before. It turned out to be very hilly, and I found myself huffing and puffing, plodding and panting up a very long and steep hill. As I reached the top and was catching my breath while my thigh muscles screamed at me, my Fitbit vibrated to alert me to something. I thought I might have a text message from someone (another thing I was delighted to find out that this wrist band could do), or maybe had over-exerted myself. Instead, I saw that I had earned some kind of marathon badge for climbing 22 flights of steps! That was some hill I’d just pulled, as I turned to look back at where I had been. I was impressed with my climb, and was also amused that I tricked my Fitbit!

I’ll be climbing real stairs this afternoon when I go to work on the third floor of the campus building where the library is housed. That will be enough stair-climbing for one day for this girl.

As I think about my osteopenia and osteoporosis, I feel like it doesn’t have a chance against Jennie and her new Fitbit! This, along with my new nutritional plan, is bound to strengthen both my bones and my muscles.

Now, to work on my brain! I need to get started on my next book, write more in this blog and keep the gears in my head running smoothly. Now, that’s a real challenge!

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Candy Counter

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It’s been a month since I received my osteoporosis diagnosis. During this month I have done more research on bones, calcium, trace minerals, nutrition, and healthy living than I ever would have dreamed possible. I have learned A LOT and have experienced a very strange phenomenon along the way.

Accompanying my diagnosis was a red highlighted line on the lab report sheet that my doctor handed to me. It indicated that I was a tiny bit low on vitamin D. My doctor recommended that I boost up my daily dosage of this essential vitamin, which I did. Along with this, I also began taking a “bone booster” combination of calcium, vitamins, and strontium. I was feeling pretty good about my attack on this disorder (I refuse to call it a disease).

As the poster girl for cookies and chocolate of all kinds, I have enjoyed more than my share of sweets over the years. Hand me a bag of peanut butter cups, and I am out of control. I’ll eat the whole bag! Don’t let me pass a table of Girl Scout Cookies! I’ll buy a couple of boxes, and finish them off in a day! And cake icing! Don’t get me started on that! I’d much rather eat the icing than the cake. It’s pathetic! Even though over the years I have eaten a pretty healthy diet, this has been my downfall. Chocolate – oh my! I have once stated that I would eat sawdust if it was drizzled with chocolate. Knowing that all this sugar wasn’t good for me, I would do my best to curb my cravings and make up for it by eating nutritional foods to complement my sweet cravings.

For several years I even gave up sweets for Lent, only to stuff all of the chocolate eggs I could get my hands on as soon as I woke up on Easter morning. Knowing that I was defeating the purpose of what true sacrifice and fasting was about during this holy season, I gave up on this habit, feeling like I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, and went to another practice during the Lenten season.

But back to my current situation. About a week after beginning swallowing my new assortment of pills, I was walking down the cookie and candy aisle at the grocery store. I stopped to browse the chocolate selection, and was not tempted. What??? I didn’t want any! As I stood there looking at all the chocolate, I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything sweet for almost a week. And the odd thing was that I didn’t want it! I finished my shopping, puzzling over this discovery and wondering what was going on inside of me. What had happened to Jennie, the cookie monster? Where had she gone?

Back at home, I went to my computer and did a quick search on all of the vitamins and supplements I was now ingesting. To my surprise, I read on a website about healthy eating for cancer patients that sufficient amounts of Vitamin D sometimes curb the desire for sugar. This is especially important for people fighting cancer, because cancer cells thrive on sugar. AHA! That must be it! Reading further, and checking it out on a few more sources, I was convinced that this was what I was experiencing. Whatever the reason, I was delighted.

It has been a month since I have put anything with added sugar into my mouth. Mostly. And really not on purpose. It just happened. I know that there is sugar hidden in a lot of the food products that we eat, and I haven’t gone to the extreme to exclude everything that has a little sugar in it. But my sugar consumption has gone ‘way, ‘way down. I am trying my best to follow the advice of a doctor I went to many years ago when I had gained a little weight and didn’t want to keep up the good work of stockpiling fat onto my body. She recommended that I limit my sugar intake (from refined sugar – not fruits) to a maximum of 15 grams per day. I think that this guideline will work for me now as it did then.

I am continuing my reading about nutrition and diet, as I marvel over this new adventure. I am seriously considering a vegan diet (with a few modifications) in my future. In the meantime, I am adding more fruit to my daily plate, enjoying tasting the sweetness of a cantaloupe, orange, apple, or prune, and marveling at how wonderful they taste!

Stay tuned as I wander this strange new Highway 70 that is now my life. I think there are more sights to see and experiences in store for me.

I plan to head down this road without a box of cookies in my hand!

One More Thing about Osteoporosis and Healing

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With my osteoporosis diagnosis a few weeks ago, I was caught off-guard, sending me into a few days of unbalance and confusion. I absorbed this news about myself, confronting the ways my body appeared to be failing me, while contemplating what this meant to me in terms of my immediate future and the rest of my life. Would this be just a hiccup in my path, or would it constitute something that would affect my quality of life and my activity level moving forward? I didn’t know, and it took a little time for me to come to terms with what was happening to me. As I had done when I had cancer 17 years ago, I was eager to confront this invader and take action to eradicate the problem from my body.

As a Christian and a religious person, my first instinct was to pray. But what should I pray for? What role did God play in this new aspect of my life? I didn’t know for sure. I recalled stories of Jesus healing the leper and the blind man, and even raising Lazarus from the dead. But what did all of this have to do with me and my bones losing their density? How should I pray about this? What would I ask God to do on my behalf?

I received my answer from several avenues. One very loud voice actually came from a friend of mine. Soon after I found out about my bone problems, I was texting with a fellow writer, an extremely fundamental Christian, a speaking-in-tongues and hallelujah-shouting kind of guy. He tried for several months to get me to go to a worship services at his church, and I always found an excuse not to go. It’s not that I am judgmental about his style of worship – it’s just not my preferred way. I am more traditional in how I like to worship, complete with organ music, lovely choir anthems, classical music, and quiet and reverent prayers. Thankfully, he stopped inviting me. I guess he knew my answer wasn’t going to change. At any rate, during our text messaging, which was primarily concerning a children’s book I have written, I told him about the osteoporosis and my concerns regarding my health, and enlisted his prayers.

Upon my request, he jumped at the opportunity to get me to see the light as he saw it. Instead of telling me yes, he would pray for me, he immediately went into full gear, wanting me to go with him to a healing service at his church and telling me all about how wonderful his preacher was and how he had witnessed a number of healings at the hands of this man. I responded that at this time what I wanted mostly was prayers. I thanked him – politely, I thought – and told him that prayer on my behalf was what I needed. He left me with the feeling that if I didn’t go to his healing service, there was something lacking in my faith in God. I haven’t heard back from him.

This caused me to tackle a new line of thought about my condition. I don’t consider osteoporosis to be an illness or disease such as cancer is. I definitely believe in God’s healing, and am looking for my bone density to stop deteriorating, and to instead grow stronger. I am sure that God could heal my bones and make them strong again, and I pray to God for guidance in following the right path for staying healthy.

An issue arises with me, however, about this whole matter. Bone density is determined by the way our bodies renew themselves through natural processes that are built into our DNA and accomplished by the fact that we are human organisms. My bone density has gotten into trouble because there has been something lacking in allowing this process do its job. I could ask God to heal me, and he might. But then, where would I be? If I don’t take care of my body through a nutritional diet, exercise to strengthen it, and a lifestyle to minimize stress, what good would the healing do? My bones still need daily nutrition to keep them healthy and strong. It’s not a one-time thing.

This is where I differ from my friend, I guess. I believe that God used me, my curiosity, my expertise in research methods, and my relationships with other people to begin learning how to heal my bones. I could have gone to a healing service at a church, have a minister lay hands on me and pray over me, which might have had excellent results. The same results either way, perhaps, but does one path prove my faith in God more than the other?

I have corrected some nutritional mistakes I have been making over the past few years, have begun paying closer attention to how much exercise I am getting on a daily basis, and have made an effort to reduce my stress level through prayer, reading, writing, and meditation. By keeping God in my life in all aspects, I believe that my body, and bones specifically, are healing.

I won’t know for a year if my bone density is improving, but I have faith that it is with each day that I live healthily. I believe that God’s hand is in this as much as He is in a church healing service.

I wish my friend could understand this.

Osteoporosis, Healing, and Me

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I was shocked when my doctor showed me my DEXA scan results on my bone density last month. I have had osteopenia for about 15 years, but it hadn’t progressed in all that time, and I didn’t think about it much. With this report, I realized that now is the time to address it in earnest. I knew I was at risk, being a small-boned and petite woman, but I have always been active – not so much an athlete – but athletic in my everyday lifestyle. I thought I was doing all the right things with eating healthy (most of the time),hitting the sidewalk everyday for long walks, doing yoga and tai chi, swimming, and working out with light weights.

It wasn’t a bad report. At least, I didn’t think it was. Osteopenia in both femurs, and osteoporosis in the neck of the left one, but barely over the line (only 1 percentage point) from osteopenia. My spine is still in the normal range, and I have not shrunk in height. My doctor, however, thought differently about the urgency of the matter. She began telling me about a drug I should take that would increase my bone density, and wrote out a prescription for it. I am not going to say in this blog which drug it is, but suffice it to say, it’s the go-to drug in the bisphosphonate family of pharmaceuticals. A red flag went flying up the flagpole of my brain as she explained to me that it should be taken on an empty stomach and that I would have to stay in an upright position for at least an hour after swallowing it. I had taken an antibiotic a few months ago that had the same warning. It made me extremely nauseous, and I couldn’t keep it down. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about another drug making me sick, or possibly damaging my esophagus.

I took the prescription home with me, and immediately logged onto the internet to see what I could find out. I didn’t like what I read, even though most of the papers and articles describing this drug were reassuring regarding its safety and effectiveness and the rarity of the side effects. I then went to the research databases at the university where I work part-time as a librarian. I began reading some contradicting reports, as well as learning about osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and bone remodeling. What I read didn’t exactly jive with what the medical and pharmaceutical websites said about the safety and effectiveness of this line of drugs, especially in the long-term.

From that point, I went into deeper research. I went to Facebook and I put out a request to my friends to see it they had any advice on osteoporosis. This is where the rubber hit the road. The response was phenomenal, and not good. I had over 30 friends respond to my question about this particular drug. Of those who responded, only 1 claimed that she had no problems with it, other than having to have several joint replacement surgeries during the time she has been taking the drug, which were probably not related. Others shared that they had experienced the “rare” side effects and were no longer taking the drug, due to esophageal, jaw, and bone and joint pain problems, to name a few. Many warned me not to take it.

Even this didn’t satisfy me completely, so I did a quick informal survey of the women I go to exercise class with twice a week. When I told them of my diagnosis, the overwhelming reply was, “Welcome to the club” and “Don’t take that stuff!” They agreed with my Facebook friends that this was not a good drug to take, unless it was a matter of life or death, or at the least probable fractures. They, like me, are trying their best to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and stay strong and upright. Balance is a big deal with them, as it is with me.

During this time, one of my cousins sent me a website for calcium and strontium supplements that she has been taking for a few years, with good results. Again, I jumped onto the research bandwagon and began reading about this product and similar ones, as well as about nutrition and aging. I liked what I read. It made sense. It didn’t advocate putting chemicals into my body that could harm me in one way or another, but giving my body what it needs to stay healthy.

Long story short, I decided not to go with the prescription my doctor was pushing, and ordered a supply of calcium, vitamin, and strontium supplements. My doctor agreed to go along with my plan for a year. If my DEXA scan next year is worse, then I will revisit this issue. I am confident that with my new knowledge about bones and bone health, nutrition, and all the other good information and knowledge I now possess, I’m going to be just fine.

I am 70 years old, writing about this in my blog, and if I don’t stop soon, I’ll be late for exercise class.

Gotta run!

Turning 70 Could Be Hazardous to your Health – Or Not

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While talking to my son on the phone this week, I was telling him how I have been feeling overwhelmed and blue for the past couple of months. I wasn’t sure whether to call it “being depressed,” but there has certainly been something going on with me that isn’t ME. I am by nature an optimistic person, and don’t let things get me down, at least not for long. It has been different this time; harder to shake off.

This has been different from my run-of-the-mill blue days. It began with my birthday in March. I crossed the decade threshold into the 70s, a step I didn’t think would be much more than a tiptoe, the same as stepping from one room of my house into another. But it has turned out to be much more than that – at least in my mind, and to a certain extent, my body.

“Mom, you need to be honest in your writing,” my son recommended, as I tried to explain to him how I was feeling.

So, that’s what I am going to do for the next little while in this blog. It is still my collection of days, but more deeply, it is going to be a collection of my thoughts and feelings about growing old and entering the world of “The Elderly.” While I don’t consider myself a full-fledged member of this wonderful new club I was admitted to without realizing I had applied, I know that I am certainly headed in that direction, and I need to prepare myself for it.

A few things hit me after my birthday, reminding me of the day I took the “ALS Challenge” a few years back and voluntarily allowed a friend to pour a bucketful of ice water over my head. What a shock that was! In many ways turning 70 has been similar. A few things (so far) have caused the earth under my feet to tremble, sending me into an anxiety-laced spiral downward.

At 70 years of age, I am still working part-time, and will be doing so for as long as I can, or want. I don’t have a large retirement fund waiting for me to live the life of comfort I see so many of my friends living. Things just didn’t work out for me the way I had planned during my years of productivity in the workplace. I didn’t stockpile as much as I felt like I needed into my 401-K or my IRA. Life kept happening, throwing me off-track, and causing me to lower my expectations of what I would have to draw from when I reached that magical “retirement age.” I have a small portfolio, which I watch like a hawk, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. That’s about all I can do at this point. Working part-time helps, and keeps me from having to start pulling from this little nest egg for at least awhile longer.

At my son’s suggestion, I have changed my perspective of where I am in life. Instead of saying I am still working, I now say, “I am retired, but I have a wonderful supplemental part-time job, which I enjoy immensely.” Just this shift in the way I look at things is helping!

For any of you blog readers who chance upon my blog and want to follow my adventures in this new world I am exploring, I invite you to check in with me again. I am going to write honestly about aging, share any helpful tips I receive along my way, and share my encounters as I travel this strange new path.

In the meantime, I need to go do some load-bearing exercises for my bones, work a couple of word puzzles or Sudoku games for my brain, spritz my face with a serum of all natural and organic ingredients promising to keep my skin supple and line-free (yeh, right!!), shampoo my snow-white hair, and get ready to go to work.

Stay tuned. Let’s see where we can go with this! Might be fun!

About Billy Graham – A Different Perspective

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We got our first black-and-white television sometime around the time I was four years old. Television was quite the novelty for our family, and it didn’t get turned on unless there was something in particular we wanted to watch. I remember Saturday morning westerns on television in particular, and a few selected weeknight programs that aired after my homework was finished and before my 8:30 pm bedtime. My father liked to watch the evening news on television, but he was always very conscious of my presence in the room, and would turn off the television set if the news included something he didn’t think I should be exposed to as a young child. I was a very sensitive little girl, tenderhearted to the core, and my parents were always careful to protect me from things that were frightening or threatening to me.

Also in our home was my grandmother, who lived with us until her death after I was grown and married. Granny was a Bible toting, Hell and Brimstone devout Southern Baptist, who believed that because we were Methodists, we were in dire need of salvation. She was an odd duck, to put it mildly, who picked and chose her favorites among her grandchildren, and who could be very cruel to those who weren’t on her “favorites” list. She never quite approved of me, but for some reason I didn’t get the brunt of her very strange personality as my sister and some of my cousins did. As sensitive as I was as a child, it’s a wonder that she didn’t mar me for life.

With all this said, there was something that happened when I was about nine years old that had to do with a combination of Granny, her strict religious beliefs, and our black-and-white television, which at the time seemed relatively tame, as far as I was concerned. I guess it was the perfect storm aimed at little Jennie Lou.

It was a Billy Graham crusade. I think it must have been the first one aired on network television. Granny was exuberant in anticipation of watching the crusade on our tv. She listened to his radio program religiously, and sent him money whenever she had a little extra to spare from her babysitting jobs. She convinced Daddy that we all needed to watch the broadcast. I am sure that she believed that we would be saved and would see the error of our Methodist ways. I didn’t know what to expect.

I was a little girl that night—only nine years old. I had been brought up to this point in my young life learning about Jesus and his teaching, believing that God is Love and that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. My faith was that of a child, simple and true. Looking back at that night, I don’t remember any specific details about watching the crusade service, but I recall the music—hymns I knew from the Methodist church—which were beautiful. What I do remember is Billy Graham at the pulpit preaching, and how his voice and way of talking fascinated me. I was mesmerized, at first. Then terrified. He got louder and louder, began waving his arms into the air, holding up his Bible with one hand, and pounding on it with the other. I’m sure his sermon was typical of an evangelistic camp meeting of the time, but to me it was the opposite of inspiring. It scared me to death. I began to fidget, and Granny sternly instructed me to sit still and listen to what Billy Graham had to say.

I started silently crying, tears rolling down my face, afraid to move from my spot on the sofa next to Granny. She was loving it, and it appeared that my parents were also paying close attention to Billy Graham’s sermon. My feelings of fear grew and grew, until I jumped up from the sofa and ran to my room, slamming the door behind me. I sprang onto my bed, pulled the covers up around me and sobbed like there was no tomorrow.

My mother followed me to my room, and quietly sat down at the edge of my bed. I folded up into her warm and loving arms and buried my face into her soft and cushiony bosom. She finally got enough out of me to learn that Billy Graham had truly frightened me, although to this day I don’t recall exactly what he said that sent me over the edge. I only know that I was afraid that I was going to die and go to Hell, and that I might not wake up in the morning. I also remember not understanding what it meant to be saved, and he had said that if I weren’t saved, I would spend eternity separated from God and Jesus in eternal fire and agony. I loved Jesus. I had a print of him holding a lamb hanging over my bed, which comforted me and made me feel close to him. Why was Billy Graham saying that I wasn’t good enough?

I don’t remember what my mother said to me that night. I only remember her arms wrapped around my small body and her soft voice reassuring me that I was loved and that nothing bad was going to happen to me. She sat with me until I fell asleep, a habit that continued for quite some time after that night, because I was afraid that if I fell asleep, I would die and never see my family again.

The Billy Graham Crusade was banned from our home television viewing after that night, much to my grandmother’s objections. Later, when I became a teenager, she would watch the crusades on television when they aired, but I always stayed in my bedroom, refusing to watch.

I was confirmed into the church when I was eleven years old, and when I was sixteen, I dedicated my life to Christ. Even then, I was still somewhat afraid of Billy Graham. As an adult, I worked up the courage to watch one of his crusades on television and puzzled over what had frightened me so intensely that night when I was nine. It is something I’ve never quite understood or come to grips with.

As I write about this childhood memory, I do so within a week of Billy Graham’s death. Reading about his passing and his life and watching commentaries about him have brought this all back into my mind. I am in awe of the man, his great faith, his calling to preach the Gospel to the world, and his lifelong dedication to God and to saving souls for Christ. He did more in his life to bring people to God than I could ever imagine doing in mine.

It makes me wonder, however, what it was that frightened me so many years ago when I was watching him and listening to him preach on our little black-and-white television set. I wish I knew. It would make it so much easier for me to reconcile what I know about Billy Graham’s life and ministry with what I experienced as a child in the living room of my home. Why didn’t his message bring me to my knees at the altar in confession and salvation as it did for so many people over the course of his lifetime? What was it that terrified me? I was a child of God then, growing in my faith, and walking the path of redemption and salvation in my own little life. What was it that frightened me so terribly?

In my collection of days, the day this nine-year-old watched the Billy Graham crusade on television was a significant one in my life, and one that left an imprint that has stayed with me all these years. As a Christian, it also leaves me without a clear understanding or answer about this memory, pondering why I feel the need to record it now in my writing.

As his followers mourn his passing, as people line up to pay their final respects to him, and as accolades are proclaimed about his life and ministry, I find myself with more questions than answers. I know that there is much rejoicing in Heaven over Billy Graham’s arrival into God’s kingdom, but I can’t forget the little girl in Georgia who was afraid to go to sleep at night.

What is the message in all of this for me? I don’t know. I wish I did.