Is Biking Bad For The Bones?

This piece first appeared in the September issue of Competitor Magazine.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Most people who ride bikes worry to some degree about falling and fracturing a collarbone, wrist or hip. But cycling may have negative effects on your bones even if you never crash.

In a 2009 study, researchers from University North Hospital in Amiens compared bone mineral density (BMD) levels in a group of competitive male cyclists and a group of young male non-athletes. They found that the cyclists had lower BMD in their lower spine and hips. A related study that focused on 23 professional cyclists discovered that two-thirds of them had abnormally low BMD, or osteopenia.

Experts believe that spending a lot of time in the saddle may lower BMD because of cycling’s nonimpact nature. When we think of ways to strengthen the bones, most of us think of dietary measures such as consuming enough calcium. But the primary stimulus for increased bone density is actually weight-bearing exercise such as running. Non-weight-bearing activities such as cycling and swimming appear to have the opposite effect.

If cycling is your primary form of exercise, it probably shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. Mixing some weight lifting or even a little walking into your regimen will strengthen your bones so they’re less likely to crack if—heaven forbid—you ever do fall off your bike.

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