Sunday, August 9, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Many people flock to cycling as a refuge from higher impact physical activities such as running and walking. The New York Times published an interesting article on its Well Blog about the potential negative influence cycling can have on bone density. The gist of the article is that in elite amateur and professional cyclists, there appears to be a strong correlation between the time spent on the bike and a decrease in bone density. Over time, bones adapt to become stronger and more dense in people who perform higher impact activities such as running. Cycling, on the other hand, is so low impact and burns so many calories, it appears that it may be fueling pedal strokes at the expense of bone density. Translating the technical jargon, lowering bone density basically means you're on the road to osteoporosis.

Tempering this somber information is the fact that this phenomena has been mostly observed in elite and professional cyclists. The article does a good job emphasizing that the sample was skewed towards athletes who are on their bikes every day logging hundreds of miles a week. Because of this, the information from the study may not necessarily translate over to the average cyclist who pursues riding as a hobby. Although this may be a skewed sample, the results are something everyone should pay attention to - too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

It's quite common for athletes to begin cycling as a way to continue working out after knee or hip injuries hindered running. I wonder how many would ever have guessed that cycling could potentially have this sort of effect on the strength of their bones?

This story emphasizes the importance of a diversity in an overall workout plan. Even one light jog a week combined with a strength training program can help promote and maintain bone density, not to mention the benefits for overall leg and body strength. Taking this idea a step further, another often neglected aspect of overall health is proper diet. Many adults fail to consume enough calcium, so a daily multi-vitamin or calcium supplement for dedicated cyclists may be a tremendous benefit.

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