Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Cycling fitness: Osteoporosis

Posted by Matt | June 24, 2009 | 5 comments so far

Who’d ever have thought it. The ‘sport’ that we do can actually harm you. I’m not talking about the obvious bone breaks and over-the-bars events but a far more insidious problem. Osteoporosis.

Strange to say but the condition most associated with post-menopausal women can also affect cyclists; at the very least there is also a risk of suffering from osteopenia which is sub-normal bone density according to the article ‘Bad to the Bone‘ over on BikeRadar.

Why is osteoporosis a bad thing? Well, it’s a serious condition as you get older primarily because it weakens bones and leads to the risk of serious injury. Not only is there a lot of blood in bones which can cause problems if, say, you break your pelvis but in extreme cases that pelvis can break just crossing a room.

Such injuries can easily become life threatening and can cause major difficulty regaining mobility afterward as your general strength tends to ebb as your activity levels decrease. Certainly it’s something I’d like to avoid.

Admittedly it’s road riders most at risk as the hours they spend in the saddle with their bones supported and sweating out calcium and minerals leads to reduced bone density over time. But if you also just ride your bike without doing something which involves regular high impact exercise (and I don’t mean crashes!) then you might want to mix it up a bit.

Actually, the article does say that mountain bikers are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than road cyclists because the vibration and strength needed helps keep relative density higher. Frustratingly though there’s no mention about whether sitting on the couch compares to someone at least doing something to keep fit although one of the commenters is clear that riders come off worse.

So that’s another reason to think about some form of cross-training like walking, running or team sports like football. If my IT band (that’s not a geeky rock group BTW!) allowed me I’d mix in some regular running to what I do. To do so might mean facing the physio and putting up with the pain of IT Band massages though which is a bit scary — it won’t do anything for cycling strength but it just might ward off a creeping enfeeblement!

Filed under Tips in June 2009


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 5 comments on ‘Cycling fitness: Osteoporosis’

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  1. tony says:

    Hi Matt

    Interesting article but unfortunately it can be classified as an observation rather than a correct clinical study. For instance low bone density is usually more prevalent in skinny people than more robust people. Now does than sound like roadies vs mountain bikers generally or just any group of the skinny population?

    The problem is than there is no control group amongst the “no excercise” group, as you point out. Although overall I’m sure than any clinician would tell you that the relative health benefits (excluding ahemm…crashing… Matt) outweigh the negatives of cycling.

  2. Dominic says:

    Don’t forget that to offset this any weight training will increase bone density.

    The more force put through a bone (within reason) will encorage the bone to strengthen, this is because bones use the increased pressure to build up stronger.

    Don’t worry about running as this will eventually mess up a joint or two (not the reefer kind…) unless on a tredmill as this is, apparently, 3000x less impactive than road running…

    So get in the gym and squat and lunge…



  3. John R says:

    Perhaps we don’t need to worry too much – the 2002 study in BONE seems pretty clear that mountain bikers have “significantly higher” bone density than road bikers and “recreationally active men”

    But maybe Tony should make sure he doesn’t fall off too often once he gets back from Paris.

  4. tony says:

    The study says that activity in the early twenties is important for bone density, so having been a running/footballer/rower I should be fine. Anyway I’m a bit ahem… “big boned” for a skinny race snake roadie, so I don’t have too many worries.

  5. Colin says:

    Proof at last, road riding is bad for your attitude AND your health! (tony excluded)

    I’d rather be unfit with strong bones thank you

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