Cycling…Is it bad to bone?
When you think of frail bones or osteopenia, you usually think of the aging population, not an elite athlete.
Current research comparing the bone density of competitive road cyclists, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, revealed that almost all of the cyclists had significantly less bone density in the spine than the control group. Some of the racers, young men in their 20s, had osteopenia in their spines, a medical condition only one step below full-blown osteoporosis.
It’s not uncommon to hear about pro cyclists who break a bone while racing. In 2009, Lance Armstrong broke his collarbone and Christian Vande Velde, another pro cyclist, fractured six bones, including three in his spine, during a crash. While it understandable that a cyclist would be at a higher risk of injury due to the speed of impact during an accident, it’s also the lack of bone density that puts them at a higher risk of bone fractures in the first place.
So, what is it about cycling that causes a decrease in bone density? Cycling, while a great cardio workout, lacks any weight bearing exercise, which is necessary to build bone mass. Resistance training puts stress on the muscle tissue and bone, which leads to bone regeneration and improved structural strength. Low bone density and osteoporosis are serious health issues and can lead to a decreased quality of life. Competitive cyclists can help prevent or reverse lack of bone density by regularly participating in weight bearing and strength training exercises, in addition to their cycle training.
Osteoporosis is often thought of as disease for elderly women, but studies are showing that a growing number of men, even young men, are at risk for developing this disease. In addition to weight bearing exercise and paying attention to nutritional strategies to increase bone mass, such as increased calcium intake, cyclist can help prevent loss of bone mass and decrease their chance of serious injuries such as broken bones or a fractured spine.