What does your research on osteoporosis focus on?
Prevention. I’ve done some work with children. At one school, for instance, we intervened with a jumping program and altered children’s physical education. We asked them to jump off of two-foot boxes; they would do that 100 times, three times a week, and it would take less than 10 minutes. We found it increased their bone health at the hip and at the spine, which are important sites for osteoporosis prevention. We’re finding that if you intervene with weight-bearing exercises at an ideal time of growth, such as before puberty, it can change bone health long term.
Why did you hone in on osteoporosis for your research?
I became interested in bone health because of my involvement in gymnastics. If people are really active and not eating well enough to match that activity, then their bone health is compromised. So when I was a teenager, all my friends had to quit gymnastics because they had fractures in their spine. That’s when I became really interested in nutrition and bone health.
Are certain people more vulnerable to osteoporosis than others?
Yes, there’s definitely a genetic disposition. Anyone with a family history of osteoporosis is going to be at a greater risk. People who are very lean, slender or tall are going to be at a greater risk. Also, there are some ethnic differences. Caucasians and Asians are at a greater risk than African Americans and Hispanics. There are other lifestyle factors, too, including smoking, drinking, poor diet and lactose intolerance.
Is there a connection between nutrition and osteoporosis?
Definitely. There are elements of diet that can help prevent osteoporosis or help build strong bones. First of all is calcium. The second most important is probably Vitamin D. Other important minerals are magnesium, phosphorus and fluoride. Protein is also important for bone health.
Are there preventive steps one can take to avoid osteoporosis?
Have a really healthy diet and be active in weight-bearing activities, or any activity that includes jumping. Being active during our adolescent years, say from age 7 to 14, in weight-bearing activities, can make enormous changes in the risk for osteoporosis. Walking is OK, but running is better and jumping is even better than that. Things like basketball, volleyball, aerobics, boot camp workouts that do lunges and squats, and jumping activities — all are helpful.