Prize winner offers prescription for strong bones

The spirit of the Bloomberg Manulife Prize, which seeks to bring research related to active health into the public domain, was inspired by a moment in the life of Lawrence Bloomberg. Some 30 years ago, while he was climbing the steps of a subway station in Toronto, the young businessman realized that he was out of breath. This moment triggered a lifelong commitment to staying in shape and ultimately to the creation of a prize aimed at promoting health and physical activity among people of all ages.

The groundbreaking work conducted by the 2015 winner of the Bloomberg Manulife Prize, Dr. Lora Giangregorio, an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo perfectly embodies the values of this important Prize. A highly respected authority on bone disease, her clinical research seeks to improve the assessment and treatment of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become thin and porous. 

Dr. Giangregorio’s investigations have revealed that while strength training exercises are key to maintaining strong bones and increasing muscle strength, there is clear evidence that performing challenging balance exercises can reduce falls, one of the leading causes of osteoporotic fracture. Based on these findings, she has collaborated with an international team of experts to create the Too Fit To Fracture guidelines – a radical new set of physical activity strategies for individuals with osteoporosis – and BoneFit™, a two-day workshop to train physical therapists, kinesiologists and exercise instructors on assessment and physical exercise prescriptions for those with the disease. 

“We all lose bone strength as we get older and it can start as early as our 30s and 40s,” notes Dr. Giangregorio. “But research shows that physical activity, started at an early age, may confer bone health benefits, even as we get older.”

Why is exercise so key to bone health? While medications for osteoporosis are effective at preventing bone loss and resulting fractures, Dr. Giangregorio points out that these drugs do not prevent falls, which are more common as we age, and are a major contributor to bone fractures.

“If you do challenging balance exercises, you can reduce your risk of a fall by as much as 30%. There is even some research suggesting that exercise prevents falls resulting in hospitalization or injury.” 

The Bloomberg Manulife Prize, valued at $50,000 CAD, will help Dr. Giangregorio and her team continue pursuing their research and ensure that their findings get into the hands of healthcare providers and those living with osteoporosis.

“I am especially interested in developing interventions that address multiple health concerns in older adults,” says Dr. Giangregorio. “Because seniors tend to lose muscle and bone mass, they develop arthritis, and often live with more than one health condition. So their exercise regime must be adapted to this reality.”

When it comes to osteoporosis and bone health, there are still many unknown factors and misconceptions. Dr. Giangregorio looks forward to uncovering more information about this all-too prevalent disease.

“Bone doesn’t change quickly, so there is still plenty to learn. You have to be persistent. Every answer brings exciting new questions.”


Dr. Lora Giangregorio officially received the Bloomberg Manulife Prize at a special ceremony in Toronto on February 8, 2016.


Manulife

McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

Desautels Faculty of Management

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