The star shares why you don’t have to let a health setback define you.
Two years ago, actress Jennie Garth received news from her doctors that left her stunned: At 47, she had osteoarthritis.
“I was like, ‘No, you must be mistaken. I’m not old enough to have arthritis,’” says Garth, who hosts the 90210MG podcast with real-life bestie (and former Beverly Hills, 90210 castmate) Tori Spelling.
About one in four adults in the U.S. suffer from arthritis — almost 60 million people. But the joint inflammation condition is most common in women 65 and older. (Research indicates there’s a link between osteoarthritis and women who’ve gone through menopause, because pain sensitivity increases when the body naturally loses estrogen.) Yet it’s also a condition that more than 21 million adults younger than 65 suffer from, too, according to the CDC.
Garth grew up the youngest of six siblings on a horse ranch outside of Urbana, IL, and made a splash on U.S. TV screens in 1990 as Kelly Taylor on the beloved teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210. Since then, she’s starred alongside Amanda Bynes in the TV series What I Like About You, moved and grooved her way to the semi-finals on Dancing with the Stars, wrote a memoir, and took part in several reboots of the 90s show that made her famous. But even with decades of show biz experience under her belt, she didn’t see herself as the right age for an arthritis diagnosis.
“I think a lot of people associate arthritis with something you get when you’re in your older, golden years, but it’s not. It’s something that young and middle-aged people and even dogs suffer from,” says Garth. “It’s kind of a universal ailment.”
At first, Garth found it hard to accept what her diagnosis “meant” about her. “I had a stigma in my own head that if I have arthritis, it means I’m old and people will see me as older when they hear I have it,” says the star. But after opening up about it to friends and family, and researching ways to slow down its progression, Garth began letting go of those limiting beliefs to focus on finding relief and spreading awareness about how the condition can affect any age group.
“People don’t really want to talk about their aches and pains or acknowledge or verify that they’re actually aging, but it’s a truth for all of us,” says Garth. Sticking to a meat- and dairy-free diet, finding time for daily stretches even if that’s just in the shower, using Voltaren gel (for which she’s now a spokesperson) for pain relief, and finding a new passion on the golf course helped launch Garth into a new chapter.
And for anyone else who’s struggling with an early arthritis diagnosis, Garth has a shame-banishing message: “We’re all going to age and we’re all going to, unfortunately, suffer some deterioration,” she says. “I encourage women to continue taking care of themselves and not let this define them.”