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Aisha Tyler Sets A Healthy Example For Bones

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

All actors dream of that first big break. For Aisha Tyler her biggest break came as a guest star on Friends, playing Joey's girlfriend. But it is a completely different break that motivates Tyler to talk about keeping your bones healthy and strong.

"I broke my arm at the Sundance Film Festival this year," says Tyler, who recently received rave reviews for her guest appearance on Nip/Tuck.  "I've been snowboarding since I was 15. I wasn't going very fast at all - but I came to a really abrupt stop. Sometimes when you stop on a heel edge your forward momentum whips you over your board. I knew I was going to fall down, but I was pretty close to my friend so I put my hands out in front of his board so I wouldn't cut my hands. It was a bad angle to land, and I broke the upper bone in my right arm."

Initially Tyler did not realize she had broken her arm and continued to snowboard for another hour until another fall painfully alerted her that something was definitely wrong.

"I couldn't pick up my board so I knew it was broken," states Tyler, who published her book Swerve in February. "So I walked over to the mountain doctor and they gave me a splint - like a temporary cast. Then I went to the mountain bar and had a few beers. I don't like to take painkillers, but I got lots of sympathy and free drinks."

When Tyler returned home she went to a specialist who told her she didn't need to wear a cast. Immobilizing the elbow for the typical six weeks of recovery can cause a fused elbow, which can make getting back your range of motion back more difficult.  Tyler says she had to wear a sling and "suck it up" for six weeks.

"I'm lucky because I healed very quickly," Tyler says. "I was pain-free in three or four weeks. My doctors said I have very strong bones."

But many Americans do not.

Bone health

An estimated 10 million or more Americans have osteoporosis. This condition is defined as low bone mass accompanied by structural deterioration of bone, leading to weakened bones and the increased risk of spine, hip, and wrist fractures. About 80% of people with osteoporosis are female. While women are far more at risk for osteoporosis than men, both sexes need to remain vigilant about bone health.

"Everyone lays down bone until they are around 35 and then they begin losing it," explains Robert Bassett, an orthopedic specialist and medical director of the Hand Care Center at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kansas. "Men start with thicker bones than women. Since men lose bone at the same rate, their bones tend to break later in life than women, who begin with thinner bones."

Tyler credits her excellent bone health to a combination of her genetics and her healthy lifestyle.

"I am sure I have genetics on my side protecting my bones because I don't have any osteoporosis in my family," Tyler states. "My parents are very nutritionally aware. They're vegetarians. My grandmother is 80 and looks like she's 60 and has very healthy bones. She still is exercising and active."

And as it turns out, she is also at less risk for bone-fracturing falls.

A recent Boston study showed that weight lifting into your eighties is helpful in minimizing fracture-causing falls by promoting muscle and bone strength as well as better coordination.

"The biggest peak for broken arms is in the elderly when they fall on the out-stretched hand causing fractures of the distal radius or wrist," Bassett notes. "The biggest thing people can do to minimize bone loss is weight-bearing exercise, because it is a stimulus for bone. Any stress, like running, walking or weight lifting causes more bone to be laid down."

Weight-bearing exercise is not only Tyler's family strategy, it's also an integral part of her personal health regimen.

"I do weight-bearing exercise almost every day," Tyler says. "I run almost every day. I lift weights twice a week. Even when I was hurt, I tried to straighten my elbow every day to keep the muscles from getting weak and to maintain range of motion. As soon as my arm was better, I started lifting weights again."

Essential element

Just as snowboarding injuries can be minimized by wearing safety gear, Tyler knows that fractures caused by osteoporosis can be greatly prevented not only by weight-bearing exercise but also by eating a proper diet including 1500 mg of calcium a day.

Bassett recommends taking calcium supplements with vitamin D to insure proper absorption. "It is easy to talk about supplements but much harder to get people to take vitamin pills."

Tyler has no problem with calcium compliance.

"I do take calcium every day because I do think about bone health," Tyler says. "I want to be healthy and active when I am really old. I take a Tums that has calcium, and I also have a calcium supplement that I get from Whole Foods."

Bassett also suggests that people eat lots of dark green, leafy vegetables and dairy products to get the recommended calcium.

But Tyler says her family and husband are lactose intolerant.

"My husband is really lactose intolerant so he buys lactose-free milk," says Tyler, who has been married for 10 years. "If he can't get that, then he'll take one of the products that makes it okay to drink regular milk."

Tyler will need to maintain her strong bones since she plans to star in the action movie she is currently developing. But despite making her living in the overly body-conscious world of Hollywood, Tyler insists that her health comes first.

"Being thin doesn't mean you're healthy," Tyler says. "Being strong is more important and that means keeping your bones healthy by lifting weights and doing other weight-bearing exercises. I want women to know they need to eat well and move their bodies. That's more important than how far your stupid hip bones stick out."

For more information about bone health, click here.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 8/18/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 8/18/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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