Bone & joint health Featured

“Boldly go” for good bone health: a lesson learned from Star Trek

Bones and Spock

Leonard “Bones” McCoy and Spock in the new film Star Trek: Beyond. (Image: Paramount)


In the science-fiction world of Star Trek, Dr. Leonard McCoy (a.k.a. “Bones”) is the fast-thinking medical chief of the Starship Enterprise. McCoy once said that after his divorce, he felt like he was left with nothing but his bones. That may not seem like a lot, but in musculoskeletal terms, bones, specifically strong ones, play a substantial role in your overall well-being and mobility.

“Many people don’t realize it. A lifetime of being able to move on your own is as important as your cardiovascular health,” says Sandy Lincoln, physiotherapy team lead, Working Condition Program at the Holland Centre, Holland Musculoskeletal program.

Bones are made up of minerals, primarily calcium and phosphorus, which bind to proteins. They are the responsive frame which supports the body.

Healthy bones allow for good range of motion and changes to meet weight-bearing or lifting needs. Bones also protect the brain, heart and other organs.

Osteoporosis is a condition of reduced bone mass or the amount of mineral per volume of bone (bone density). Osteoporosis can increase the risk of fractures. With the fracture occurring in an osteoporotic bone, the healing process is prolonged.

Sandy offers these tips on maintaining good bone health:

Eat calcium-rich foods, and avoid high caffeine and alcohol intake

Eat a diet with sufficient amounts of vitamin D and calcium. Both work in tandem to strengthen our bones. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium. Choose dairy products, beans and peas, fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, dark leafy vegetables, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and citrus fruits such as oranges.

Avoid too much caffeine which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Keep your caffeinated beverages to a minimum (no more than two a day).

Avoid high alcohol intake which affects the balance between the erosion and remodelling of bone tissue. Alcohol inhibits the formation of osteoblasts that are needed to create new bone. 

Maintain a healthy body weight

Too much body weight or too little are disadvantages. The better range for body mass index (BMI) or measurement derived from a person’s weight and height, is between 18.5 and 25 kilograms per metres squared.

Too much weight results in increased weight-bearing demands on lower extremity joints, (of the hip, knee, foot and ankle), resulting in increased wear and tear on the cartilage. This is a factor in the development of osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, especially in the knees.

When walking on a level plane, the force on your knees is about one and a half times your body weight. When you go up or down stairs, the force is two to three times your body weight, per knee.

“We see a lot of patients who don’t seem to realize the impact of being overweight on the health of their knees and other lower extremity joints,” says Sandy.

Being underweight is connected to lower bone mass or lower amounts of mineral per volume of bone. This increases the risk of osteoporosis.

The exception on body mass index is with individuals who may have an elevated measurement due to increased but well-distributed muscle mass. These individuals are not at the same risk as those who have high body fat. After all, good muscle mass supports bone.

Exercise regularly including resisted exercises and balance activities

Do resisted exercises such as weight lifting for your arms and legs. The pull of the muscle on the bone is what helps to keep your bones strong. “A lot of women do aerobic exercises, but they should also do resisted exercises,” she says.

Sandy also recommends walking or weight-bearing activities that keep the bones strong by putting weight through the bones in the legs, and balance exercises as you age, these help maintain stability and reduce the risk of falling

Being active when you are younger is key. Bone mass can only be maximized in our twenties to mid-thirties when bone regeneration or the making of new bone and the replacing of old bone, is occurring more rapidly. The more bone mass we have at that peak period, the better for bone health throughout our lives.

Prevent falls

Falls can lead to fractures, and prolonged inactivity during healing and regaining function can lead to osteoporosis and muscle weakness. Most falls can be prevented. Check your home for hazards like loose rugs, poor lighting, uneven floorboards, and wires or cords across floors. Stairs should have handrails on both sides. 

Do not smoke

Smoking can prevent the body from being able to heal efficiently as less oxygen gets to the tissues. Absorption of nicotine can also lead to reduced bone mass.

About the author

Natalie Chung-Sayers

Natalie Chung-Sayers is Sunnybrook's Communications Advisor for the Holland Musculoskeletal Program and the St. John's Rehab Program.

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