‘Cycling on the road causes a decline in bone density’ - study

The lack of impact placed on the bones during ordinary cycling reduces bone density, especially in the hip area.

 The municipal budget includes a nice sum for bike paths (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The municipal budget includes a nice sum for bike paths
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It is common knowledge that bicycle riding is a healthy, aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping, strengthens your leg muscles and burns calories. But researchers at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa say otherwise.

A new meta-analysis – a search process used to systematically merge the findings of independent studies – by Rambam researchers has concluded that unless you are biking off road, cycling reduces bone density and can cause fractures of the femoral (thigh) bone in relatively young cyclists that is usually associated with older people.

Dr. Ianiv Simonovich, Nadav Rinot and Yaniv Keren write in the latest issue of the Hebrew-language journal Harefuah of the Israel Medical Association that the lack of impact on the bones during ordinary cycling reduces bone density especially in the hip area and that “the phenomenon is seen at all ages, adolescents and adults and men and women.”

Lower bone density was found in the spine as well as the femoral bones among those who rode bicycles on roads, they found.

How to avoid loss of bone density

 CYCLING ACTIVIST Oren Lotan feels there is no time to be lost in getting cycling and walking infrastructures installed on the urban artery. (credit: Courtesy Oren Lotan) CYCLING ACTIVIST Oren Lotan feels there is no time to be lost in getting cycling and walking infrastructures installed on the urban artery. (credit: Courtesy Oren Lotan)

To avoid this, the research team recommends incorporating in the training routine running, off-road cycling, impact exercise such as jumping that puts greater weight on joints and on your feet and whole-body vibration. Lifting weights was also recommended to increase bone density. It is also important to maintain a balanced diet including adequate calcium intake.

Low-impact exercise involves stepping, walking and other movements that don’t get your feet pounding against the ground.

Road biking has become popular around the world among commuters. Cities and towns around Israel have dedicated bicycle paths to make this safer.

The article does not specifically compare the use of a stationary exercise bike or an elliptical machine at home or at a gym, which can be leisurely, but the authors mention that spinning – a very rapid type of cycling that forces the hamstring muscles and all the major lower-body muscles to work harder – can increase impact and fight loss of bone density, though not as much as off-road cycling, jumping and running.