Another day, another study with something for us to worry about.
Coming on the heels of a report that tied bicycling and infertility, the New York Times reports [“Is bicycling bad for your bones”] on a couple of studies that ties intense bicycling with the reduction in bone density.
That makes racing cyclists more susceptible to breaks, such as Lance Armstrong's collarbone fracture earlier this year, above.
An encouraging note is that recreational cyclists are not subject to the infertility and bone density problems. The studies looked only at elite athletes who push themselves to the extreme in training and competition.
In fact, the triathletes in the infertility study would probably not suffer from the bone density problems because they do a lot of running. In fact, one study found they added to their bone mass during the season.
One study compared the bone densities of 32 competitive male cyclists and found all had less bone density; in fact some suffered from osteopenia in their spines, which is one step away from osteoporosis.
Another study found that a group of racing cyclists in Colorado lost bone density in their hips during the course of the season, but showed some recovery afterwards.
There are several causes being studied for this problem, which can lead to easily snapped collarbones and broken hips in crashes.
Bones are strengthened by the impact of external forces, like those during weight lifting and running. Cycling might be too easy on the skeleton to create bone growth. Also, cyclists lose a lot of calcium by sweating.
There are ways to counteract the problem for elite cyclists. One of the researchers, Aaron Smathers, recommends doing some weight-training during the season.
Other studies have found that taking calcium during exercise helps to more quickly replenish the amounts that are lost.