American Family Children's Hospital

Biking Towards, or Away From, Bone Problems?

CyclingMADISON - Are women who bike frequently setting themselves up for bone problems as they get older?


Several studies have shown that men who biked as a primary form of exercise but who didn't mix in much weight-bearing activity—such as running, basketball or lifting weights—developed more bone problems than those who engaged in regular weight-bearing exercise.


Alison Brooks, MD, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor of orthopedics with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, wants to see if that is also true for women.


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Using bone density scans, Dr. Brooks compares the bone-mineral density of women who cycle more than six hours a week to those who cycle less frequently but who are also doing weight-bearing exercise.


"It's quite possible that we'll find there isn't a huge difference between the groups," says Dr. Brooks.


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"But part of what we're doing is trying to gauge the scope of these women's lifetime activities. A lot of them were athletic when they were younger, in the teen years, which are most important for building bone mass. We may find the amount of physical, weight-bearing activity they did as a child is now protecting them as adults."


"That could be an important message for both middle-aged women and teens—the notion that mixing up physical activity when you're young is the best way to ensure bone health as you age," adds Dr. Brooks.


Dr. Neil Binkley, an osteoporosis specialist and associate professor of medicine with UW School of Medicine and Public Health, conducts the bone density scans. He believes a woman's bone and muscle health are closely linked.


"Exercise is crucial for maintaining bone and muscle health, and helps reduce the risk for falls and fractures as we age," says Dr. Binkley, a geriatrician. He agrees that it's important for women to pay attention to exercise and bone health when they're younger—especially since it's no longer common for women to take estrogen supplements after menopause.


"Will exercise mitigate bone loss with menopause? Dr. Brooks' study will add important insight to the answer," says Dr. Binkley.


Dr. Brooks is recruiting women age 35 to 55 who cycle heavily and engage in minimal weight-bearing exercise activities. Women on medications or those who have a medical issue that affects bone health are excluded from participating. She hopes to have study results compiled by early 2011.


"In our modern society, we do a lot of sitting," says Dr. Brooks. "Even if you don't label yourself as a cyclist or runner or swimmer, we all need exercise. When you're up on your feet, doing weight-bearing activities, you're benefiting your health."


Date Published: 11/15/2010

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