When millions of Americans tuned in to see Dancing with the Stars in September 2008, they saw a familiar face as a contestant: Cloris Leachman—then an 82-year-old award-winning actress and comedian.
Over the following weeks, they were delighted to find out that this talented octogenarian could really dance. Leachman—winner of nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar—has never let anything stop her from doing what she loves, and she wasn't about to let osteoporosis keep her off the dance floor.
It's that kind of spirit that led the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) to honor her recently for living strong with osteoporosis. Leachman has also testified at hearings before the U.S. Congress on behalf of the Foundation and the U.S. Office on Women's Health's "Best Bones Forever" osteoporosis educational campaign.
NIH MedlinePlus magazine's Peter Reinecke spoke to Leachman about her approach to osteoporosis.
In your new autobiography, Cloris, you mention that you have osteoporosis and asthma. Yet, at age 82 you were a big hit on Dancing With The Stars. Now you are starring in the new hit series Raising Hope. What do you do to keep in the kind of physical shape necessary for such demanding physical activity? How do you keep up your energy?
I remember what good shape I was in 15 years ago! Seriously, I'm a bucket of noodles right now. For me right now, rest is key. I get my down pillows and get real comfortable and think about how great it would be if I could exercise. I had a knee operation last December, and as soon as I've completed my rehabilitation I think I'll be a lot better.
When and how did you discover you had osteoporosis? Had you had symptoms? What did your health professional tell you to do?
Several years ago my doctor gave me the diagnosis after a bone density test. In looking back before then, I had broken a few bones—like my foot—just minor indications.
Research has clearly shown that it's important to start early building and maintaining healthy bones. What is your message to young people about osteoporosis?
I thought I was immune, so when I found I had it, I couldn't believe it. It is the last thing I would have imagined I'd have.
So I would say get educated. Ask questions. Pay attention to your health. And get tested.
Your active lifestyle is a wonderful role model for millions of women who live with osteoporosis. What message do you have for women who are living with osteoporosis? Do you have a philosophy about dealing with osteoporosis?
You really have to educate yourself. It is just crucial to your health and, therefore, your happiness. Just keep learning. It is always going to make you happier and healthier.
I should have been dead by now, but I am not because I paid attention. I always wanted to be healthy. Even if I didn't know how to do it in my earlier years, I've grown to learn about it. You've got to keep learning. It is a lifelong journey.
Do you have a healthy diet?
I eat really well. Everything I eat is fresh, colorful, and delicious.
You have had a remarkable career – you've won an Oscar and more Emmy Awards than anyone else. What does the future hold for Cloris Leachman?
I have my new series, Raising Hope. It's a lot of fun.They asked me what I'd want to do after Dancing with the Stars. I said I want to be on American Idol, the singing contest show. But we checked into it, and they said you had to be 28 or younger. Maybe we should take them to court for age discrimination!