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Margaret Austin, New Zealand

Margaret Austin has lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the past 50 years. She taught the biological sciences at local secondary schools before being elected to Parliament in 1984. In 1988, at 55 years old, Margaret Austin had been postmenopausal for 10 years. Though she was very active and walked daily, she had begun to notice herself stooping, which caused a slight loss of height. Suspecting the problem was osteoporosis, her doctor prescribed a bone density scan, which revealed that Margaret did, indeed, have the disease and was at a high risk for fractures. In consultation with her doctor, she decided to make immediate changes in her life to try, if not to stop the disease, to at least retard the damage.

Margaret Austin, New Zealand“I had always enjoyed swimming,” explains Margaret, “and considered myself reasonably fit as a result, and certainly healthy. Now I made a conscious decision to transfer to the gym, and for the last 15 years have followed a regular program three times a week. It includes 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and 30 minutes of a weights program which changes every 2-3 months so as many muscles as possible are exercised.” For 12 years, Margaret supplemented her exercise regimen with hormone replacement therapy and a calcium supplement, but switched three years ago to a combination of calcium and a bisphosphonate, a drug which reduces the risk of fractures by slowing bone loss. She has suffered some setbacks; she fractured her tibia and fibula when, on a hike through a national park, her right leg became caught behind the trunk of a shrub.

However, she and her doctor believe that her level of fitness at the time helped in her recovery, which has been trouble-free. She has not altered her exercise regimen as a result, and feels confident that her muscle tone is very good. Since then, she has done some light hiking and walks regularly in addition to her gym routine. A recent bone density scan showed that the bone density had increased in her hips and spine and were average for her age.

She has recently retired from her position of chancellor at Lincoln University, but (in 2005) remains the Chair of the National Commission for UNESCO in New Zealand, and continues to be involved in health activities and the arts in Christchurch. “I think I have been very fortunate,” says Margaret. “I have had not any pain at all as a result of stooping and it certainly did not get in the way of work or social life.” Preventing the onset of osteoporosis is ideal, but it is never too late to begin on a path to restoration or at least management of fragile bones. Margaret's credo is determination: “Never give up, keep up with the exercise and it is possible to feel confident that it is really worthwhile to invest in your bones.”

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