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Osteoporosis and Cycling

Originally posted on December 7, 2010

Riding my bike up Left Hand Canyon this fall, a friend asked me about the connection between osteoporosis (frail bones) and cycling. Her question encouraged me to do a little research.

I thought I was safe from osteoporosis because I’m active.  I bike and hike, run and do Pilates. But still I may be at risk for osteoporosis. The facts are sobering, and not just for women!   Fit middle aged men who cycle 12 hours per week are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Bone loss when studied in such a group was about 10% greater than for a similar group of moderately active non-cyclists. One study even showed that cyclists have lower bone density than couch potatoes. WOW.

Sweating the details:
Sweat contains huge amounts of calcium along with salt. And, if you exercise, you sweat more than a couch potato.  So exercising more than an hour a day without ingesting enough calcium to replace what you lose in sweat could lead to osteoporosis and stress fractures. In a study of college basketball players who were practicing long hours over 3 days, their sweat contained an average of 422 mg of calcium.  During the three months between preseason and mid season, players lost on average 3.8 percent bone mineral density (BMD). Replacing CA++ in the following season allowed them to gain, on average, 2 percent BMD.

Obviously, high impact exercise is not the only factor in bone health.  Replacing calcium is critical for any athlete.   Look at the whole picture to prevent weak bones.

Here are some considerations to beef up your bones:

  1. Beyond the daily recommended CA++ intake of 1200 mg/day for adults, add 70 mg of calcium per day for every hour of moderate exercise.
  2. If cycling is your main activity, it’s time to start cross-training.  Bones need the jarring force of impact to get stronger. Strain that is unevenly distributed on the bone is best.   Activities like running, hiking (especially down hill), weight lifting, dancing, yoga and Pilates all help improve bone health.
  3. Make sure you have adequate Vitamin D (a blood test will tell you).
  4. Avoid soft drinks, drink alcohol in moderation, and can the cigarettes.

Beyond Dairy: Other sources of calcium-rich foods

  • vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale
  • boney fish, especially salmon and sardines
  • figs
  • tofu
  • calcium-fortified cereals
  • kidney beans

So yes, cyclists who spend hours in the saddle are at greater risk for osteoporosis.  However, make some reasonable modifications, and decrease your risk of osteoporosis today.

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