After a decade of failing health, Fergus Falls woman replaces prescriptions with CrossFit
Since battling a series of health challenges, Gail Anderson has been prescribed drugs for everything from osteoporosis to high cholesterol.
But her most effective prescription is one she only has to take three times a week. It requires no insurance reimbursement and it has few side effects. That miracle drug? CrossFit, coupled with a healthier diet.
The high-intensity fitness regimen incorporates elements from different sports and types of exercise. Since Anderson began doing Crossfit at Lake Region Healthcare’s CrossFit Fergus Falls in spring 2017, she has lost 51 pounds, reversed her osteoporosis completely and gained more vigor and enthusiasm for life than she’s experienced for decades.
“I feel so much stronger. I have more energy,” says the rural Fergus Falls woman. “Things are so much different. It’s not just physically, but mentally, I feel so much better. I have a reason to get out of bed now.” Anderson’s story is all the more amazing when one considers what the past decade of her life was like. She has been besieged by one health crisis after another – including severe depression, a hysterectomy, a blood clot in her lung, breast cancer treatments, a lump removal from her back, cataracts and a devastating diagnosis of osteoporosis of the spine.
The osteoporosis treatment required yearly infusions of a powerful drug that prevented her body from breaking down bone. But it also gave her flu-like symptoms, so she never felt completely well.
She thought there had to be a better way. Fortunately, she was inspired by her 26-year-old daughter, Kristen, who was training at CrossFit Fergus Falls and recently competed in the CrossFit Open. Anderson approached Kristen’s coach and asked if it was ever possible to reverse osteoporosis. Certainly, he said, pointing out that the right combination of exercise and strength-training could stop bone loss and even build bones.
Anderson took the plunge, jumping into classes with Kristen. “It was sort of intimidating but it was OK, because I knew everybody has to start someplace,” she recalls.
Although everyone around her was encouraging, Anderson soon fell prey to injury. She didn’t know how to do squats correctly, so she wound up injuring her knee. She took it easy so her knee could mend, but she also signed up for private lessons so she could guard against future injury. “That really made a difference,” she says.
Anderson also became one of the Diamond Ladies, a group of older women who faithfully work out at CrossFit Fergus Falls. She’s found she loves the camaraderie and accountability of exercising with a regular group. “
They’re there for me as well as I am there for them. And we all push each other and encourage each other all the way along … I thrive off of that,” says Anderson, who also gains inspiration from her daughter/frequent workout partner, Kristen.
As Anderson became more active, she found herself acquiring other healthy habits – such as substituting meals with nutrient-packed protein shakes and drinking a gallon of water a day. In less than a year, she has dropped from 231 to 180 pounds. Even more importantly, her doctor informed her this fall that her cholesterol has dropped, and her osteoporosis is completely gone.
“It was such an exciting time when my doctor told me, ‘Your bones are better.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding!’ and I just exploded in the room,” she says. “My first stop after I got the diagnosis was here (at CrossFit Fergus Falls) and I told my coach. I was so excited I had tears running down my face. I conquered the big O – my osteoporosis is gone.”
Buoyed by her successes, Anderson also began to run. She participated in six to eight 5Ks last fall, and may even try a 10k in the future. Another goal she has set for herself is to lose an additional 30 pounds by fall of 2018 for her daughter’s wedding.
Anderson is the first to admit she’s the unlikeliest of gym rats. She was 54 when she started doing Crossfit and she’d never considered herself an athlete. “When I was growing up, I hated gym class,” she admits.
But she believes the fact she could do it is proof that anyone else can. “It’s not something where you’re going to come in here and say, ‘Oh this is too much for me to do, or this is going to cause more pain.’ A lot of times it’s the opposite. A lot of times the way to fix things is to get stronger and your bones get stronger as you put muscle on,” she says.
In fact, her advice to others is to get a doctor’s permission first, to use an expert coach and the correct equipment and, finally, to take it one day at a time.
She’s found that the exercise experts at LRH and CrossFit Fergus Falls know how to build strength and fitness to accommodate any age or ability. “They are certified, and they are into making you better emotionally and physically. They’re here to make you stronger. It’s not that you have to lift a bar up over your head, that’s not the goal. The goal is to progressively get stronger as you go.”
“Try it,” urges Anderson. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”