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Roger Smith

Ann-Margret

Mature & Marvelous!
Brush up on bone health as this entertainer talks about what 60 looks like now

As a youngster, Ann-Margret often saw elderly women walking in a bent-over fashion, leaning on their canes. "I'd notice women who were kind of stooped over. It looked very painful," says the Swedish born entertainer. "But I could never get an answer about what they had. No one ever said the word osteoporosis.'"

Now that Ann-Margret knows much more about the bone-thinning disease — which afflicts some 10 million Americans and causes some 1.5 million bone fractures each year — she's made it her business to spread the word.

In fact, she's taken on the role of spokesperson for the National Council on the Aging's campaign, "What 60 Looks Like Now." It aims to help older women become more aware of osteoporosis — and of the importance of getting their bones tested.

"Four or five friends of mine have the disease," says the five-time Golden Globe winner. "So I know how devastating it can be — how it can make you more prone to fractures, and the loss of independence it can lead to. I don't want anyone to go through what I've seen happen to people."

Increasing awareness of the condition is essential, say experts, because early on, osteoporosis often has no visible symptoms. In fact, many women go for years without realizing they have the condition.

"Osteoporosis lurks in the background without a person knowing whether they have it — until it's perhaps too late and a bone breaks," says William Sunshine, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine. And these osteoporosis-related fractures, which occur most often in the spine, wrist, or hip, can have dangerous — and even deadly — repercussions. "It leads to the demise of one in four of those who break their hip," says Dr. Sunshine.

How can you protect yourself?
Take some simple lifestyle steps to keep your bones healthy (see "An Osteoporosis Prevention Plan"). And if you have risk factors for osteoporosis (see "Your Risk Factors," right), talk with your doctor about having the strength of your bones tested.

"After I saw what osteoporosis had done to my friends, I had a bone density test to make sure I was still doing O.K.," says Ann-Margret. "And I plan on getting the tests every couple of years." The test, she explains, is "really quick and easy. I lay down. All I had to take off were my shoes. A big machine kind of hovered over me from side to side. Seven minutes later, I got up, got my information, and was out the door."

If, after testing, you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, don't panic: Medical treatment can make a significant and positive difference. "In the old days, a lot of doctors used to just chalk osteoporosis up to the aging process," says Dr. Sunshine. "But now, we can reverse or halt the thinning of bones. And while it's better to treat it earlier to avoid years of suffering, the treatments will work regardless of age."

And that's very good news for today's active women. As Ann-Margret says, "I want to be the very best I can be, whatever age I am. I'm 60, and I'm not about to slow down."

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Exercise. Ann-Margret's bones are strong and supple, thanks, in part, to her many years of rigorous dance training, a weight-bearing workout that helps keep bones dense. She also does other kinds of exercise. "I do aerobics and weight training three times a week," she says. "On Saturday mornings, I walk with my friends up and down hills." Note: Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
# Eat right and get your calcium. A proper diet, one that's low in alcohol and carbonated beverages, and high in calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, leafy greens, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals, is key. "The human body needs about 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day," says William Sunshine, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "The average American diet has about 500 to 700 milligrams a day. We're all a bit on the short side."

To ensure that you get enough calcium (and vitamin D, which helps you absorb calcium), "review your diet with your doctor to see if supplements make sense," Dr. Sunshine suggests. If you need supplements, take 300 to 500 milligrams two or three times a day, preferably after meals. "That's when stomach acid helps calcium be absorbed," he explains.

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