Feature Story

By Marie Wolf

Actress Sally Field needs little introduction.

If you’re a boomer, you’ll remember her from the 1960’s television series, “Gidget” or “The Flying Nun.” Younger folks may recall her from the films, “Mrs. Doubtfire” as Robin Williams’ ex-wife, or later, as Forrest Gump’s mom. Aside from her numerous movie credits, Field has amassed two Oscars, three Emmy awards — her most recent win captured last month, as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Nora Walker in ABC television’s “Brothers and Sisters.”

The actress, who turns 61 in November, is the mother of three grown sons and grandmother of three. She can look back on a long and rich career that still happens to be thriving by Hollywood standards. Yet, on this particular day last spring, when we spoke by telephone from Washington, D.C., there was no talk of show biz glitz and glamour. Field was firmly focused on the day’s mission — carrying her message about the importance of bone health to the women on Capitol Hill.

Gidget is all grown up now
and happily sharing what
she’s learned about her
aging bones and how we
can all prevent osteoporosis
Having been diagnosed with osteoporosis a few years back, Field now joins the more than 10 million American women, over age 50 who have this disease. It’s called the “silent disease” because there is no pain while our bones weaken and become porous with age. Oftentimes, it is not even diagnosed until we have the misfortune of tripping and falling, resulting in a devastating fracture that can profoundly alter one’s life. That’s why prevention is key and education is vital.

Heredity and medical conditions aside, there are some ways to keep your aging bones strong and healthy. Here are some tips from The 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What it Means to You.

  • Include calcium and vitamin D in your diet at all ages.
  • Be physically active.

  • Reduce the risks of falling and breaking bones by keeping your home hazard-free.
  • Talk with your doctor about medications you are taking that could weaken bones, such as those for arthritis or thyroid problems. Also discuss ways to protect bones while treating other conditions.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight increases the risk of fractures and bone loss.

  • Avoid smoking. It can reduce bone mass and increase the risk of broken bones.

  • Limit alcohol consumption. Heavy alcohol use reduces bone mass and increases the risk of broken bones.

Field’s hope is to help educate through her campaign, “Rally With Sally For Bone Health,” sponsored by Roche and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Wellness: What happened on Capitol Hill today?
Sally Field: I was urging the most powerful women in our country to take care of their own health. To make sure they’re getting bone density tests, because two-thirds of the women on Capitol Hill are over the age of 50 (and luckily, there are more and more women on Capitol Hill all the time). Also, they need to bring the message home to their constituents that women need to know to include a bone density test in their annual health care ritual. And, if they’re not getting that they need to talk to their healthcare provider and tell them they want one!

Wellness: Why is this test so important?
Sally Field: The only way you know if you have osteoporosis is if you get a bone density test, or if you break something. One out of two women over 50 will experience osteoporosisrelated fractures sometime in their life. That is a pretty devastating number. Depending on the age when you get the fracture and where it is, there are some pretty horrible statistics on how your health can deteriorate and very quickly.

Wellness: In the 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, the recommendation is for women to have their first bone density screening at age 65.
Sally Field: I think that’s too late. My doctor started giving me bone density tests in my late 40s because he thought I might be a prime candidate. It’s in my history. Both of my grandmothers and my mother — and I look like somebody who would be a candidate. I’m small and thin. I’m Caucasian. But I’m also realizing that there’s not enough research, not enough statistics on women of color. So, these tests need to be done.

Wellness: So, age 50, even if you haven’t gone through menopause?
Sally Field: My doctor started giving me them as I was nearing 50 so that he could have a baseline understanding. You need a baseline bone density test so he can watch as you go through menopause how the loss of hormones affects your bones — because you no longer have estrogen to keep your bones safe. Your doctor wants to watch when you start to lose bone, how rapidly you lose it and how much you lose.


Next time you tune into ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters” take a good look at this soon-to-be 61-year-old. Note the toned arms and flat abs. She’s small and slender, yes, but staying fit does not come naturally, the actress says. “I’ve been working out my whole life.”

While on hiatus last spring Field worked with weights. “I like pumping and sweating for an hour three times a week,” she says. “I’ll always throw some aerobics in too, whether it’s hiking or swimming. It depends on what I feel like doing or what the weather’s like.”

When the show is in production though, staying fit becomes challenging. “We’re [the cast members] all suffering. We work long hours and hardly go outside, unless we go on location. All of us have been trying to figure out, ‘OK. How do we do this job and still look good?’”

What about diet? Think Field is naturally thin and eats whatever she wants? “No! I’ve stayed conscious of it all my life,” she insists. “Friends ask, ‘how come you’re not eating? There’s chocolate and ice cream …’ and I tell them, well, I’m just not, just not going to eat that.” Instead, the actress sticks to a healthy diet to maintain her weight and fuel her body. “When you’re working a 14 to 15 hour day, it’s hard to figure out how many meals you should be having.” She keeps a refrigerator in her room on the set and fills it with grilled chicken, salad, yogurt and string cheese.

“Instead of snacking on carbs, like a bagel or something highly refined, I try to eat something that may not taste as well, but actually, in a few minutes my energy picks up.” Field laments, “ I keep waiting for the time when I can eat whatever I want. But I realize that it’s just never going to be, because now it’s just harder to lose those three pounds that creep up on you.”


Wellness: Nothing happened to you personally prompting you to have the test, but your grandmothers went undiagnosed?
Sally Field: My grandmother on my father’s side died in her 70s. I didn’t know her well. I don’t believe she died because of osteoporosis, but I don’t know. It may have impacted her health in some way. I remember her being a little, tiny bent over woman. She walked around, kind of fragile-like.
I thought that’s what old women did. I realize now that she was probably my age [60] when I knew her back then! My mother’s mother — who was really big — much bigger than me, was sturdy and bold. She lived into her 90s, but my mother told me that the last four years of her life she suffered a lot because she broke her back. Now — I know without knowing — that that was from osteoporosis. My grandmother broke her back sitting down on a park bench. She probably might not have lived any longer than she did, but she would have lived without so much pain. And so the quality of the last years of her life was very much compromised.

Wellness: Did your mother get tested because of her mother?
Sally Field: My mom got tested because of me. She didn’t know to go get tested. She’s in good shape, but she has osteoporosis. It makes me nuts to realize that women my age, my mother’s age don’t know to go in and get a bone density test. I want women to be armed with this information to make sure their healthcare provider is giving them the test. And, if you are at risk you have to decide on a treatment that’s right for your lifestyle. If you choose
[medication] once a day, once a week, or once a month, you have to stay with that treatment.

“If you demand to know about it, you can treat it very, very effectively, and you can live the rest of your life with bone health. Everything else may fall apart, but your bones are going to be healthy.”

Wellness: You chose Boniva® and after a year on this medication,
your bone loss has stopped?

Sally Field: Yes. It stopped. But you have to decide with your healthcare provider which one works for your life. All medications are effective, but they work in different ways. Mine, I only need to take once a month. It’s easier for me to remember and do it. It’s a medication you have to think about. You have to take it in the morning on an empty stomach. You can’t eat for an hour and you can’t lay down. I mark it on my calendar and I know that’s the morning I can’t drink my coffee (groan) until I am out the door.

Wellness: Will you continue to take the medication?
Sally Field: Yes, for the rest of my life.

Wellness: OK. The message is clear. Women over 50 should have a bone density test and if they are diagnosed with osteoporosis, a treatment plan should be implemented.
Sally Field: Yes. You have to stay aggressive about wanting to be healthy. If you demand to know about it, you can treat it very, very effectively. And you can live the rest of your life with bone health. Everything else may fall apart, but your bones are going to be healthy.

To learn more go to the National Osteoporosis Foundation website, nof.org or bonehealth.com

Marie Wolf is the editor of Wellness magazine.

Copyright © 2007 Island Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.