You’ve probably heard it before or maybe you’ve even said it yourself: Mountain biking is a great exercise because it’s so low impact. According to an article in the New York Times online cycling may be a little too low impact because many serious cyclists have low bone density. I guess it’s possible to get too much of a good thing…
The first argument that cyclists have low bone density points to the fact that cyclists do seem to suffer from a high number of broken bones. Heck, even Lance Armstrong recently broke his collar bone in a crash (his first cycling-related bone break I believe) but to me that’s more about the physics of crashing than it is about brittle bones. Go big or go home, right?
In a slightly more rigorous bone density study, competitive cyclists were found to have below average bone densities at the start of racing season and bone densities continued to decline through the season. Another study found many cyclists in their twenties had osteopenia which is just one step below osteoporosis. Yikes!
Earlier studies have shown that mountain bikers tend to have better bone densities than road cyclists and doctors think this might have to do with the higher impact nature of off-road riding. Runners, by contrast, pound their bodies day after day and in general appear to have excellent bone health.
If you’re worried about your own bone density check with your doctor but also consider upping your calcium intake. Research shows that drinking fluids containing calcium during a workout can slow bone calcium loss over fluids that do not contain calcium. Even mainstream sports drinks contain calcium these days – for example Powerade Ion has 2.5 mg of calcium per serving.
At the end of the day most of us probably won’t have to worry about low bone density due to mountain biking unless we’re spending hours in the saddle every day. If you’re like me you should be much more worried about crashes 🙂