Monday, February 25, 2008

Cycling’s silent but potentially ominous threat to your skeleton

Whoever said “everything in moderation” really hit the key to a long, healthy life right on the head. I recently read an article citing medical evidence indicating that if cycling is the only athletic activity in your life, you might be depleting the foundation of your body - your skeleton.

A study published in the August 2003 issue of Osteoporosis International reports severe bone loss in 27 male racers ages 40 to 60 who'd trained an average of 12.2 hours a week for 20 years. At an average age of 51.2 (when a typical man has no bone loss at all) the cyclists' average hip and bone densities were 10 percent lower than those of a control group of moderately active, non-cycling men of similar age.

Whoa. Slow down there. The riders averaged 12 hours per week??? That doesn’t seem too excessive, less than a couple of hours each day. But what’s even more unusual is that low bone density is typically a woman’s disease (4 out of 5 are women) yet these men are well on their way to osteoporosis. In fact the article expounds on other cases where young, fit cyclists have lower bone density than sedate couch potatoes! What is causing this dramatic effect?

The article goes on to say that because cycling is a low impact activity and unique in that you can ride hard for hours, your calcium stores can get hammered. An average man engaged in intense training loses 200 milligrams of calcium in sweat per hour. The recommended daily adult calcium intake (1,200 mg) has enough padding to handle one hour of exercise. A seven-hour century might sweat out 1,400 mg of calcium. That’s more than a day's recommended intake.

Even more disturbing is that when the cyclists added supplements, they slowed done the rate, but continued to lose bone density. That’s enough evidence to take action, even for recreational riders, and especially for female cyclists.

Below are several ways to maintain a strong skeleton.

  • ADD SUPPLEMENTS to get at least 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
  • ADD YOGURT, MILK and other high-calcium products to your regular diet and post-ride refueling
  • CUT BACK ON SMOKING, ALCOHOL AND SODA, all known bone thinners
  • DO BACK EXERCISES TWICE A WEEK to strengthen the lower vertebrae
  • RUN, HIKE, SKIP ROPE OR JUMP AROUND for 20-30 minutes, two to three times a week
  • GET A BONE SCAN. If your Insurance company won't pay for the DXA bone-density scan then inquire about a heel scan.

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