Cycling fitness fiends who would rather spend time working out on a bike — whether on the road or in the spin studio — than anywhere may be neglecting an important dimension of their overall well-being: bone health.
Bones undergo a constant cycle of loss and rebuilding, aided by stimulation from muscles and an adequate supply of calcium. While vigorous pedaling, especially when it includes intervals, is an excellent path to aerobic fitness, weight-bearing exercise is needed to help maintain bone density and protect against fractures. This is especially true for post-menopausal women, who are at greater risk of developing bone-thinning osteoporosis.
Bones need “forceful muscle contractions, occurring in starts and stops and with some variety,” the writer Jane Brody, an avid cyclist herself, noted in a column on this topic in the New York Times. Bones also gain strength from the pull of gravity. With the exception of standing on the pedals to accelerate or climb, cycling contributes neither.
For road cycling enthusiasts, the temptation may be to forgo indoor activity in favor of road time. Now that the temperatures are dropping in the Northeast, indoor workouts may hold slightly more appeal. But the fact is that building weight-bearing exercise into your cycling fitness routine is important all year long, and can be easier and more efficient to achieve than you think. Here are some suggestions:
Walk: Running is an excellent weigh-bearing exercise, but it’s not for everybody. Studies have shown that walking at least 4 hours per week provides some protection against hip fractures in post-menopausal women. Even better: Walk up and down stairs or uphill (add some weight with a backpack).
Squat: Exercises like squats and pushups recruit the body’s own weight for resistance and are easy to do almost anywhere. Resistance bands add options and are easy to pack for on-the-go exercising when traveling.
Lift weights: A regular weight-training regimen can help achieve balanced fitness. Make use of the weight room at the gym, or exercise with free weights at home.
Do some heavy lifting: Daily tasks such as carrying children, toting groceries, moving items around the house and heavy yard work also stimulate bones to help keep them strong.
Try cyclo-cross: Change things up. With its combination of pedaling, running, leaping, climbing and toting a bike over barriers, this increasingly popular fall and winter cycling sport offers plenty of weight-bearing exercise.
A time-thrifty routine: For exercises to build full body strength and promote core strength and stabilization, check out Bicycling Magazine‘s 10-minute Bone-Boosting Workout.
Add calcium to your diet: Not to be overlooked for bone health is a diet rich in calcium. The National Institutes of Health recommend 1,000 mg per day for adult women and 1,200 mg for women over 50. Good dietary sources include plain yogurt, milk and cheese; calcium-enriched soy milk, tofu and orange juice; canned sardines and salmon; and dark leafy greens, such as kale.
It’s easy to get carried away with pedaling, but building weight-bearing exercise plus adequate calcium intake into your routine are keys to maintaining bone strength and promoting balanced fitness.
Photo: Hunter Johnson