August 2003

Ann Richards

Keeping up with Ann Richards
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The former Texas governor fights a crippling disease When Ann Richards fractured her hand in a fall nine years ago, she went to the doctor for a bone density test only to learn that she had osteopenia, an early form of osteoporosis. The diagnosis spurred the former Texas governor, whose mother and grandmother also suffered from the disease, to write I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis, an inspiring little volume filled with the author’s shrewd insights into health care, gender and, yes, politics.

Co-written with Richard U. Levine, M.D., I’m Not Slowing Down is an accessible, informative look at a disease that dogs 28 million people, 80 percent of whom are women. Offering information on diet, medication and bone density, as well as instructional photos and tips on exercise, the book also provides a fascinating peek into Richards’ personal life. Her indomitable spirit and sassy attitude are in evidence throughout. BookPage recently discussed the book with its author, who turned 69 this year.

BookPage: How did being diagnosed with osteopenia change your life? Ann Richards: My mother’s last years and my own diagnosis caused me to become really aggressive about taking care of myself. Although I had always led an active life, I was not diligent about physical exercise. Weight-bearing exercises build bones. I now work out in a gym lifting weights twice a week, and I try to walk six to nine miles each week. For the first time, I am taking responsibility for my own health.

The book is a wonderful blend of autobiography and invaluable health information, as well as a memorial to your mother and a tribute to womanhood. What specific goals did you have in mind when you wrote it? My real goal in writing this book was to get women and men to be aware of osteoporosis and its debilitating affects and to ask their doctors for a bone density test. I wanted the book to be short and simple. I specifically asked for photographs of myself lifting weights because most women foolishly think they are too old to build muscle, or that they will have a male physique as a consequence. The stories and the discussions about women are simply to encourage women to think independently and care for themselves. Dr. Levine made the medical part understandable and helpful. What tips for avoiding osteoporosis can you offer a young woman? Young women should begin to build bone mass early in their lives. The more mass there is, the less they will lose in later life. They should enjoy a diet of calcium-rich foods and avoid food and drink that causes bone loss. This book has easy-to-read charts and assists in choosing those foods. Exercise is important for young women to build bone mass and muscle strength. In the book, you encourage people of all ages to take charge of their health and not be afraid to ask questions of their doctors. Why do you think people have such a hard time doing these things? Most people assume that physician language is akin to technical, non-understandable jargon. It does not have to be that way. Doctors do not perform witchcraft. They simply interpret what they are told and what tests reveal. They diagnose and prescribe treatment. Our responsibility is to help doctors know what is going on in our bodies and to insist on clear, precise, understandable language in response. Doctors are our partners, and they need all the assistance we can give them to be sure we get the right diagnosis. What are your goals at this point in your life? I intend to lead a busy, fulfilling, active life. I want to travel the world and see new places and learn new things. I want to remain interesting to my children and grandchildren, and I want them to hurry to keep up with me and not the other way around. I want to work and I want to play.

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