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Why Cycling is Bad for Bone Density and How You Can Improve It

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Why Cycling is Bad for Bone Density and How You Can Improve It

Old 11-17-16, 11:53 AM
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Why Cycling is Bad for Bone Density and How You Can Improve It

Very good article from the folks at TrainingPeaks.

What the Research Shows

If you are a road cyclist, especially if you train hard or have been training for multiple years, you are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. This puts you at a higher risk for fractures; a risk that continues to go up with age and training. More masters were classified as osteoporotic compared to age-matched, non-athletes, and the percentage of these increased significantly after a seven-year period.1 So, for those of you in this category, you are not only more likely to be at risk, but the risk factor is higher as you complete more years of cycling training.

In 2012, there was an extensive review of 31 studies on the subject2. The findings were that adult road cyclists who train regularly have significantly low bone mineral density in key regions. This was found to be true when comparing the cyclists to control populations of both athletes in other sports as well as non-athletes. Areas of the lumbar spine, pelvic and hip regions, and femoral neck were all key areas found to have lower values in road cyclists than the controls.



Why Cycling is Bad for Bone Density and How You Can Improve It | TrainingPeaks
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Old 11-17-16, 12:44 PM
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That is an interesting article that rings true. I believe in the benefits of varied exercise to even out loads placed on the muscular/skeletal structure. On non-riding or recovery days I frequently go for walks at our local state park. Riding a bike is so repetitious I instinctively fell the activity needs to be balanced with other forms of exercise.

Several years ago rider in our bike club had a wheel drop into an expansion joint cutting across the road in a diagonal direction. I happened to be very close behind and saw him fall. It happened we were very near the beginning of the ride and still closely spaced and not yet fully at speed. His fall initially seemed mild but he broke a pelvis badly enough to cause great pain. He was an somewhat older man and a bit on the hefty side but I was surprised at the amount of damage from such a slow fall. As a 78 year old man, I pay close attention to anything I feel will have a bad effect on my quality of life, especially at this point in my life. When I was a mere 50, I did not think about healthy living at all.
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Old 11-17-16, 01:49 PM
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This is one of the reasons that my wife and I have been lifting weights at a gym since 1978. I used to use the leg sled for leg work because I was afraid of squishing my ancient discs any more than they were already. But a few years ago I realized that bone health was more important, and switched to barbell squats, gradually increasing the amount of weight I can squat. We lift twice a week with a full-body program. My wife and I also hike and backpack. I ski Alpine, hard as I can. I'm not so good in the bumps anymore but I work at it. Neither of us ever had a broken bone. So far.

I have a question for BF researchers for which I've been unable to find an answer. From the studies I've been reading, it seems like endurance riders who do a high volume have lower bone density than the general population of the same age. Is this true? Is so, what is the cause? I've been postulating that it's sweat. From Bicycling:
Complicating the issue is yet another by-product of cycling: sweat. You can lose up to 200 milligrams of bone-building calcium in an hour as you soak your jersey on a hot ride. Put in long training miles each week and ride a century now and then, and you’ll deplete your body of so much calcium that it becomes harder and harder to replace, especially as you age. You can counteract this by fueling up on foods with plenty of calcium, but you may need more than just dietary adjustments.
Frame Work: Build Bone Strength | Bicycling

Researchers agree that calcium supplementation has no or little effect on bone density. However they don't look at those who are either cyclists or who lift weights or that combination. Thus I don't think their research, while valid for the general public, has much to do with our choices. If it is true that more calcium would be beneficial to us, it would be nice to know how much per whatever unit work.

Interestingly, Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes contain more calcium than sodium, 50mg/capsule. Riding in the heat, I take at least 1/hour. On a century, that's 300mg right there. Maybe I should take them any time I ride or lift? I don't know. Research says that calcium supplementation increases heart attack and Alzheimers risk, but would that apply if it went into our bones?

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Old 11-17-16, 03:43 PM
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There's a section in the TrainingPeaks article that lists out the reasons cycling is harmful to your bones. They include the fact that what we do isn't weigh bearing, we take long recovery times and use them to sit, and we have low body mass. The first two also apply to couch potatoes, and road cyclists are in worse shape than people who don't exercise (for this one metric only). So there's got to be more to it. I haven't heard a better answer than the sweat hypothesis, personally.

The answer is more stress for your bones and connective tissue. Lift weights. Run. Ride a mountain bike over a rocky, rooty trail.
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Old 11-17-16, 04:11 PM
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Thinking about it some more, I counted up . . . in the past 2 years, 8 broken bones: humerus, femur, pelvis, among my riding group of maybe 30 cyclists, most of whom are over 50. We are all very experienced, lifetime cyclists for whom safety is our watchword. No racers, but we are endurance riders. This is serious business.
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Old 11-17-16, 06:21 PM
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I agree it's serious business. We're out in the road with traffic, people are drinking, texting, etc. None of us are getting any younger. Building strong bones is one more thing we can do to protect ourselves.

I got hit a year ago, pretty hard. Doctors said it was a miracle I didn't break anything. I didn't know about cycling and bone density, but I'd been doing several things they recommend for other reasons. Served me well.

Plus, lifting weights, running, jumping rope, and even walking are going to benefit you in other ways.
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Old 11-17-16, 06:38 PM
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And it isn't necessary to have an expensive gym membership or a large home gym to get started. I have a basket of dumbbells of different weights, takes up a small amount of space, and do other exercise as well.
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Old 11-17-16, 07:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Lucillle View Post
And it isn't necessary to have an expensive gym membership or a large home gym to get started. I have a basket of dumbbells of different weights, takes up a small amount of space, and do other exercise as well.
Agreed. Consider resistance bands as well.
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Old 11-17-16, 07:23 PM
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When I first learned of this back in the early 2000s, I upped my walking to a minimum average of 15 km/week. In the last couple years, I've increased it even more so that I'm averaging about 20 km/week.

Much of the time it is not just walking, but also walking with a relatively heavy backpack.


I do suspect that endurance riders might be at particular risk because we spend so much time cycling that we feel we don't have time for anything else.
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Old 11-17-16, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Lucillle View Post
And it isn't necessary to have an expensive gym membership or a large home gym to get started.

I agree, no gym membership, no fancy machines and no fancy equipment is neccessary...All I have at home is a barbell with a total of 315 pounds of plates, squat stands, dumbbells, kettlebells and TRX.
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Old 11-18-16, 12:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
When I first learned of this back in the early 2000s, I upped my walking to a minimum average of 15 km/week. In the last couple years, I've increased it even more so that I'm averaging about 20 km/week.

Much of the time it is not just walking, but also walking with a relatively heavy backpack.


I do suspect that endurance riders might be at particular risk because we spend so much time cycling that we feel we don't have time for anything else.

Personally, I think walking and other forms of exercise, as supplements to cycling are important enough in a cyclist's life, to have their own subforum: Cross Training.

Currently, all we've got is a walking thread: https://www.bikeforums.net/general-cy...-language.html
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Old 11-18-16, 11:49 AM
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Excellent thread everyone. Good ideas to think about. I have 30 lbs. of dumb bells for upper body work and for squats. But for legs I like walking best. I find the slower the method of travel, the more one sees of the environment traveled, the better and richer the experience. I've not been backpacking in several years but it still is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy cycling for several reasons, one of which is the , compared to auto travel, the slow pace that allows seeing the countryside being traveled through. Some days, such as today that is a beautiful fall day, being outside, walking or on the bike is itself a high.
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Old 11-18-16, 04:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Lucillle View Post
And it isn't necessary to have an expensive gym membership or a large home gym to get started. I have a basket of dumbbells of different weights, takes up a small amount of space, and do other exercise as well.


Some dumbbells or a bar, a cheap resistance band set, even just body weight exercises (like pushups and dips), a rope to jump, a football and some friends...

It doesn't have to be on the same level as cycling, either. Even a little bit will help.
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Old 11-19-16, 12:15 PM
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You know, hiking and backpacking are load-bearing, impact generating activity that improves balance as you traverse uneven ground, improves core strength under a heavy pack, and can provide upper body impact if you use trekking poles on steep ground. Plus, the scenery is fantastic, alpine sunsets can't be beat, and the quality time with self and friends is invaluable.
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Old 11-19-16, 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Researchers agree that calcium supplementation has no or little effect on bone density. However they don't look at those who are either cyclists or who lift weights or that combination. Thus I don't think their research, while valid for the general public, has much to do with our choices. If it is true that more calcium would be beneficial to us, it would be nice to know how much per whatever unit work.

Interestingly, Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes contain more calcium than sodium, 50mg/capsule. Riding in the heat, I take at least 1/hour. On a century, that's 300mg right there. Maybe I should take them any time I ride or lift? I don't know. Research says that calcium supplementation increases heart attack and Alzheimers risk, but would that apply if it went into our bones?

"So little time, so much to know!"
The comment about Endurolytes containing calcium prompted me to look at my supply of Sport Legs that has worked well for me in warding off cramps. https://www.nutrahealthsupply.com/sport-legs-120 the capsules contain calcium and magnesium. The mention of calcium also prompted a memory of something I read recently about calcium in connection with nerve signals. I've not digested the info in the link but it so far seems relevant.Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels
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Old 11-19-16, 03:07 PM
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Here's Chris Carmichael's take on weight training for cyclists and bone density. Note particularly the necessity for high loadings.
Minimum Essential Strain (MES) represents a threshold that must be exceeded in order to stimulate bone growth. That strain can come from bearing weight, strong muscle contractions, trauma, and other sources.
5 Things Cyclists Don?t Understand About Strength Training - CTS
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Old 11-19-16, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
You know, hiking and backpacking are load-bearing, impact generating activity that improves balance as you traverse uneven ground, improves core strength under a heavy pack, and can provide upper body impact if you use trekking poles on steep ground. Plus, the scenery is fantastic, alpine sunsets can't be beat, and the quality time with self and friends is invaluable.
Rowan and I went hiking in the mountains yesterday ... 7.8 km on the hike, and then 2.4 km walking to get dinner at our favourite fish and chips place.
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Old 11-20-16, 07:37 PM
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After reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories", "Wheat Belly", and "Grain Brain", it's pretty clear that high carb diets are responsible for the loss of many vitamins and minerals. Probably 90%+ of cyclists are heavy carb/sugar consumers. Coincidence?
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Old 11-20-16, 07:47 PM
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Originally Posted by RandyO View Post
After reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories", "Wheat Belly", and "Grain Brain", it's pretty clear that high carb diets are responsible for the loss of many vitamins and minerals. Probably 90%+ of cyclists are heavy carb/sugar consumers. Coincidence?
There is a lot of controversy. I did low carb for a while. My conclusion is that people should eat what is best for them. When I was learning all about the high/low carb ways of eating, it became clear to me that there were a lot of authorities in both camps. It also was disturbing that many people felt their way was the right way-for everyone.
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Old 11-20-16, 07:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
Rowan and I went hiking in the mountains yesterday ... 7.8 km on the hike, and then 2.4 km walking to get dinner at our favourite fish and chips place.
You are awesomely fit! I've started back walking the dogs as well as daily cycling, but so far the walks are just a mile or two.
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Old 11-20-16, 11:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
You know, hiking and backpacking are load-bearing, impact generating activity that improves balance as you traverse uneven ground, improves core strength under a heavy pack, and can provide upper body impact if you use trekking poles on steep ground. Plus, the scenery is fantastic, alpine sunsets can't be beat, and the quality time with self and friends is invaluable.
Absolutely to be encouraged! The 10-day backpack we did this September had a couple days which featured a fair bit of maximum whole-body muscular exertion along with wonderful views and quiet camps.
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Old 11-21-16, 12:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
When I first learned of this back in the early 2000s, I upped my walking to a minimum average of 15 km/week. In the last couple years, I've increased it even more so that I'm averaging about 20 km/week.

Much of the time it is not just walking, but also walking with a relatively heavy backpack.


I do suspect that endurance riders might be at particular risk because we spend so much time cycling that we feel we don't have time for anything else.

9 miles a week ain't much. A one hour walk is 3 miles. You're walking a total of just 3 hours a week. Better than nothing. You'd be better off walking an hour a day. That's closer to 20 miles a week.

This article claims the average person walks about an hour a day. But you're better off health wise walking about 100 minutes a day rather than an hour a day.
https://www.humana.com/learning-cent...ing-for-health
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Old 11-21-16, 12:40 AM
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Originally Posted by American Euchre View Post
This article claims the average person walks about an hour a day.
I doubt the average American walks anywhere close to an hour a day.
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Old 11-21-16, 01:02 AM
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Originally Posted by American Euchre View Post
9 miles a week ain't much. A one hour walk is 3 miles. You're walking a total of just 3 hours a week. Better than nothing. You'd be better off walking an hour a day. That's closer to 20 miles a week.

This article claims the average person walks about an hour a day. But you're better off health wise walking about 100 minutes a day rather than an hour a day.
https://www.humana.com/learning-cent...ing-for-health
If you read my whole post, you'd see that I said I had upped it to a minimum of 20 km/week. I rarely walk as low as 15 km/week.

And 20 km/week is a minimum. Over the past 3 weeks, I've walked over 40 km/week.

As I mention here ... in the linked thread ... I have walked 124.7 km so far this month.
https://www.bikeforums.net/road-cycli...v-19-20-a.html

And, of course, that only includes walking as exercise. Having worn a pedometer for the last month, I discovered that I walk quite a bit as part of my everyday life, but I don't bother to count all that in my walking as exercise totals. For example, my walking distance does not include all my stair climbing, which you can also see in that linked thread.


Edit: I just had a look at the article and it talks about walking 10,000 steps a day. I just finished a 1-month step challenge at work. I wanted to participate in it out of curiosity to see how many steps I took each day. Turns out, I comfortably walk 10,000 steps a day without much extra effort at all. So I pushed it a little bit ... after all, it was a challenge/competition ... and ended up averaging 15,292 steps a day. And with that, I placed 116th out of over 900 participants.

Last edited by Machka; 11-21-16 at 01:13 AM.
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Old 11-21-16, 03:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Lucillle View Post
You are awesomely fit! I've started back walking the dogs as well as daily cycling, but so far the walks are just a mile or two.
Thanks.

I've been active pretty much since I could walk ... I was fortunate to grow up in an active family.

Right now, I'm not doing as much cycling as I would like, but definitely trying to do something every day, and more on weekends.
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