What You Should Know About Cycling & Bone Density

January 12, 2022 0 Comments

Lower body and bikes of several road cyclists in a race

Cycling provides countless benefits to your health. It's one of the best ways to stay active, with the added bonus of being a low-impact sport that most people can do well into their later years.

But longtime, serious cyclists do face a notable health risk. And most only realize this is a problem after they suddenly break a few bones in a minor fall. The reason for those surprising breaks? Low bone density — a common issue for avid cyclists.

The correlation between cycling and bone density is not an inevitable issue, though. You can adopt habits now that will help keep your bones strong and stave off serious bone density problems. Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie learned about this decades ago, and he’s been proactive about the topic ever since. 

Why Cyclists Often Have Low Bone Density

Why do cyclists often have low bone density? Two primary reasons: it’s low-impact and involves far more training than many other sports.

As a sport, cycling’s easy-on-the-body nature is one of the reasons many people love it. You’re not bearing your own weight — the bike takes care of that for you. And you’re not jarring your bones as you do with running.

Those benefits make it easier, not to mention essential, to train longer. A runner gets all the cardio they need in a 45-minute jog. Yet, a cyclist needs at least twice that for the same results.

But that combo — high-duration, intense training in a low-impact sport — can be detrimental to bone density and health over time. Many studies have noted the correlation between low-impact sports like swimming and cycling and bone density issues. 

The exact reasons aren’t entirely clear, but plenty of evidence indicates that high-impact activities actually strengthen your bones and build mineral density. And the more you exercise without impact, the more it can diminish your bone density over time. That’s why this issue is even more prevalent among elite athletes than it is among “weekend warriors” who don’t cycle professionally. It’s also more common with road cyclists than mountain bikers, who jar their bodies a lot more when riding.

The Problem With Low Bone Density

But why is low bone mineral density a problem? The condition can lead to bone issues like osteopenia — or worse: osteoporosis. Both of which can put you at a higher risk of fractures. 

That fracture risk can be a real problem for cyclists who often face the possibility of hard falls. If your bone mass gets low enough, though, you can break bones even doing simple daily activities. These problems are much harder to deal with once you already have them, so proactivity is critical. 

As Coach Darryl puts it, “It’s harder to turn this ship around than it is to prevent it from going in the wrong direction in the first place.”

How Cyclists Can Strengthen Their Bones

As a cyclist, you can follow several prevention strategies to avoid serious bone density problems. Here’s how to strengthen bone density:

  • Get tested. The first thing to do is have a doctor test your bone density. That will give you a baseline, and you can then check it at intervals based on your doctor’s recommendation to watch for changes.
  • Include strength training in your workout plan. Weight lifting and other strength training exercises are a great way to build bone strength, and every cyclist should incorporate them into their training plan.
  • Do some high-impact exercises. Cycling might be your primary activity, but you should also include some higher-impact workouts in your weekly regimen. Even walking the dog provides some much-needed jarring for your bones.

Remember, the older you get — and the more you ride — the more likely you are to develop these issues. You may even have a genetic predisposition toward bone density loss. That combination of factors led Darryl to start getting regularly tested decades ago, and he’s changed some of his exercise habits to keep his bones strong over the years.

The connection between cycling and bone density is a significant issue that every serious cyclist should be aware of. But, with the right knowledge and some important exercise habits, you can strengthen your bones for many years of healthy riding. 


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash