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Is Biking Bad For Bone Health?

The short answer is...yes!

If you’ve got a roadie in your life, this one is for them.

 

Road Cycling is Bad for Bone Density

Road bikers, aka Roadies (and possibly Gravel Grinders): there is a chance your bones won’t age well.

You might struggle to have adequate bone mass density.

The Science: 50+ studies About Cycling and Bone Density

Before accusing me of being dramatic, read through these points:

  • It’s not a question of whether cycling is bad for you, but more accurately, whether road cycling is optimal for your bone density.
  • This study was performed on-road cyclists and does NOT relate to mountain biking.
  • Gravel riders were NOT a part of the study, however, they do experience similar conditions to road riders.

    Study Summary

    In this 2012 meta-analysis that appeared in B….okay...look..I’m not going to bore you.

    The researchers compared cyclists to all populations of people to exclude factors like genetics or diet.

    Simply put, this was a very good study.

    Data turns me on: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554602/

    The Results: Get Vertical

    The results showed small--yet critical--differences in bone density:

    1. Adult road cyclists training regularly have low bone density in key regions like the lumbar spine.
    2. Cross country mountain bikers had a higher bone density than road cyclists.
    3. Female cyclists experience lower bone density at a rate similar to male cyclists.
    4. Road cycling does not appear to confer any significant bone-building benefit.

    Other types of cycling, such as mountain biking, as well as high impact sports like running, were found to reduce this unsafe effect.

    So get vertical or head out on your feet! Your body will benefit from it.

    Why Your Bones Are Brittle

    Cyclists can struggle to improve (or in some cases, maintain) bone density for three reasons:

    1. Cycling requires the rider to be in a supported position that isn’t really weight bearing.
    2. Cyclists have lower body mass and less body fat.
    3. Cyclists require recovery time between workouts.

    Generally, bones have a lower density when they experience less weight. That means that when you spend long hours in the saddle and then come home and lay on the couch to drink RecoverElite and eat potato chips, you aren’t doing your spine and pelvis any favors.

    Not to mention, as a cyclist, you likely already have a lower body mass, which means less weight on your bones normally.  

    Essentially, roadies aren’t putting enough stress on their bones (especially at the competitive level).

    Why You Care

    Two Reasons:

    • Osteopenia: bones that are weaker than normal.
    • Osteoporosis: bones that break easily.

    For female cyclists, the possibility of osteoporosis is even more likely because women are already at a higher risk.

    Luckily, there are some easy steps to take so you can enter your golden years with strong bones. And no, it isn’t more milk.

    How to Improve Your Bone Density As A Cyclist

    The more stress you put on your bones, the more you stimulate bone density.

    Here are three things that you can do as a road cyclist or gravel grinder to make sure your bone mineral density is in check:

    Get your ass in the gym

    Try lifting some heavy stuff that loads the axial skeleton (your spine). Exercises like the squat are prime examples. Since the keyword is stress, you also want to lift heavier (with proper training).

    Jump Around - Jump, Jump, Jump Around

    Include some kind of plyometric or jumping training a couple days a week. These exercises apply similar benefits to lifting heavier weights: the impact from jumping up and down will put additional stress on your skeleton.

    Cross Train

    If you only like to cycle roads, dust off your mountain bike once or twice a week.

    If you can stand it (I know a lot of you can’t) go for a run. Come on, you’re a roadie. We know you like pain. Have you tried cross country racing a singlespeed?

    Save a Friend

    Know a buddy who’s a road cyclist? Share this article with them and keep them from dissipating in the wind at age 60.

    Resources:

    Olmedillas, H., González-Agüero, A., Moreno, L. A., Casajus, J. A., & Vicente-Rodríguez, G. (2012, December 20). Cycling and bone health: A systematic review. BMC Med. 2012; 10: 168.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554602/

     

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