Bone strength is important for people of all ages and health statuses. Fortunately, there are a lot of activities that can help improve your bone strength. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that 12 to 20 minutes of running three times every week can help improve bone mineral density and build muscle. But a new study from Norway shows that cycling can actually put a person’s bones at serious risk.
Cycling is a low-impact sport, which means it puts very little pressure on bones. And though it’s an excellent cardio workout, as well as a safer, more environmentally-friendly mode of transportation (most cars on the road are over 11 years old!), there’s a darker side to cycling. Cycling ultimately has a negative impact on bone density and strength. This new study found that cyclists had much thinner bones than runners — despite the fact that all of the cyclists were young and healthy.
Researchers from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and the Norwegian Olympic Training Center in Oslo conducted a study, looking at 21 high-level runners and 19 road cyclists. The participants consisted of both men and women and were mostly in their 20s. They were all in shape and had participated in several years of competition.
For the study, the participants had their bone density measured. The scientists focused on their lower spines and the tops of their femurs because these are the parts of the overall skeleton that can tell the most about bone health.
The participants also provided information regarding their training schedules, calcium intake, and how much time they generally spent at the gym. Their time spent at the gym was of particular interest because for cyclists, weight training is often recommended to help increase not only their muscle strength, but their bone strength as well.
Kyle Norman of Denver Fitness Journal says, “I expect to see more endurance athletes take up heavy strength training to enhance their performance and prevent injury.”
And Preston Petersen of Genesis Health Clubs adds, “I see more people focusing on recovery and mobility training in the next five years. The secret to a successful adult exercise program is avoiding and managing overuse injuries.”
After comparing the data, the researchers confirmed what has already been proven: cycling does, in fact, take a toll on bone health. But the data also showed that the bones varied greatly between the cyclists and the runners. The cyclists trained far longer than the runners, averaging about 900 hours a year compared to 500 for the runners. And as a result, the cyclists all had significantly thinner bones than the runners.
According to Oddbjorn Klomsten Andersen, a graduate student at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and lead author of the study, “There are limited studies following young cyclists through their careers. But studies in master cyclists demonstrate that a larger proportion of them have low bone mineral density or osteoporosis…”
With 46.5 million surgical procedures being performed each year in the U.S., many of which focus on bone problems, it’s important for all athletes to be mindful of not just their muscle strength, but their bone strength as well. The researchers suggested that cyclists focus on other exercises with weight-bearing elements to keep up their overall bone health.