Anthea Turner: My marriage break-up was painful at the time, but it helped me change my life
After a shock weak bone diagnosis, Anthea Turner talks to Gabrielle Fagan about self-care, exercise and reconnecting with herself after her divorce.
Glamorous and ever-youthful TV presenter Anthea Turner, 58, has always prided herself on being conscientious about her health and fitness — so she was shocked to discover that she’d developed osteopenia, a form of decreased bone density.
A precursor to full-blown osteoporosis, osteopenia leads to weakening of the bones and an increased risk of breaks and fractures. Experts believe the condition is often not detected until the damage is so severe that somebody suffers a break as a result.
Around 500,000 people receive treatment for fragility fractures (the equivalent of one every minute) each year in the UK.
Turner, who rose to fame presenting Top Of The Pops in the Eighties and hosted Blue Peter for two years in the Nineties, found out following a bone density scan that she had osteopenia in her spine and hip bones.
The TV regular, who had her own BBC show, Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife, in 2006 and has competed in physically challenging reality shows Dancing On Ice and The Jump, says the discovery spurred her to make some additional lifestyle changes.
Here, Staffordshire-born Turner talks to us about the steps she’s taking to reduce her risk of bone fractures, and her battle to rebuild herself following the breakdown of her marriage to businessman Grant Bovey after 13 years together.
How did you feel when you discovered you had osteopenia?
As someone with a lifelong passion for healthy eating, exercise and wellbeing, I was really shocked. The scan result showed I was at high risk of osteoporosis of the spine and also at risk of a hip fracture.
It seemed unfair in a way because I trained as a dancer when I was young and for the past 30 years have always been active.
I go to the gym three times a week, have never done silly diets, I don’t smoke and I only drink occasionally. Alcohol and smoking are two of the biggest risk factors for poor bone health.
Despite the fact I feel fantastic and don’t look or feel my age, the DEXA scan (a special type of X-ray that measures bone mineral density) showed me that bone loss is a silent health problem that could have a dramatic impact on my life if left undetected or untreated.
Do you know why you developed it?
Apparently, I’m more at risk because I’ve been through the menopause, but also because I’m petite. It (can be) a curse of skinny people and those of us who are inherently small. We don’t put our bones under as much stress because we’re not carrying a huge amount of weight. Weight bearing — through body weight and impact exercise — apparently helps bones replenish.
We reproduce our skeleton every 10 years, and if we don’t have adequate minerals in our diet, our body will effectively take it from our bones, helping to weaken them. A poor diet — especially one low in calcium — can affect bones. Although I eat lots of dairy, which contains calcium — I love milk and cheese — you need Vitamin D to absorb it, and sunshine’s a prime source of that. As I’m fair-skinned and don’t want to damage my skin, I’ve largely avoided the sun.
In our climate, we don’t often bask in it anyway, so my levels probably weren’t great, so it was a combination of factors behind this.
What lifestyle changes have you made?
My exercise has largely been dance, Pilates and yoga, but jumping around, high-impact exercise is what I need for bone health, so now I run once a day.
I’ve also started eating more oily fish and kale because they’re high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help maintain good bone density.
To turbo-charge my bone health, I take a calcium supplement with vitamin D, derived from marine algae, called LithoLexal Bone Health Osteoporotic.
Luckily, I’ve also taken HRT for a long time — frankly, since I experienced my first hot flush — and that can help maintain bone density. I can’t reverse this problem, but I’m doing everything I can to avoid it tipping into osteoporosis.
How can people help themselves stay healthy?
We’re all so conscious of ageing these days, and think about our skin, hair and the outside of our bodies, but we forget that the ageing process is also going on inside. Our skeleton is key in keeping us standing up and moving, so we need to give bones just as much care as our appearance.
I’m really saddened and surprised by the lack of responsibility people take for their health, especially when I see people who are abusing their health by being overweight, smoking or not doing any exercise.
My sister, Ruth, died at 15 (she suffered from spina bifida) and would have given anything for legs that worked so she could run around. That made me feel like if you’ve been given a good body and you abuse it, shame on you. Value it, don’t waste it.
You divorced in 2015 — how do you feel now about your marriage breakdown?
In many ways, I see it as a very positive thing in my life. It was deeply painful at the time, but it helped me to change and made me realise I was in the wrong life. At the time, I thought everything was perfect, so it was a real wake-up call.
When it happened, it made me overhaul everything in my life and look at all aspects including my health and wellbeing, which in a way has made me feel younger, brighter and more in touch.
It’s been a massive process and battle over the last five years, but I’ve finally got back to being the person I was before I was married. You sometimes get a little bit lost in life, but in the end, you always come back to who you really are.
I’m happy, feel complete and I’m not bitter. Thanks to a lot of therapy, I was able to move forward. When I look back at my old life and photos, it sometimes feels like I’m watching a movie about someone else entirely. In a way, I regard what happened as a gift — Grant gave me three beautiful step- daughters and my freedom.
Are you looking for love?
It will have to be quite a guy to turn my head, but I know it will happen. I’m not scared of being on my own — I feel complete as a person — but equally, I believe I won’t be on my own for ever. I’m looking forward to meeting that amazing man, whom I’m confident will one day walk into my life.
Currently though, I’m very content and contained, and I’d much prefer to be on my own than with the wrong person.
To check your risk of a fracture, visit sheffield.ac.uk/FRAX/tool.aspx. LithoLexal Bone Health Osteoporotic, £24.95 for 60 tablets, is available from Holland & Barrett (hollandandbarrett.com)