Boning Up For Success

Exercise is good for you. Isn’t it? Yes, of course it is. We are bombarded with encouragement to take more exercise every day. This is to reduce our weight, improve our cardiovascular system, which in turn does great things for our brains. So its win, win and win. Well, not always.

Exercise is good for our bones too as it builds up the bone strength and density. Weight training is the most effective, but while we may want to look good on the beach, many of us won’t want to build up too much muscle so we can no longer get clothes that fit. Nevertheless, a rounded exercise program sounds good with a combination of cardio and strength work.

Disturbing then, to read the latest research from Olmedillas and his team from U of Zaragosa that was published in last Friday’s issue of the Public Library of Science (1). They studied two groups of mid-teen cyclists, half of whom had been training hard for at least 2 years and some up to 7 years. These were selected from a variety of different cycling teams and they all competed regularly.  The other half was the control group who indulged in the normal recreational sporting activities of teen-age boys.

The surprising result was that the bone densities and strength of the competitive adolescent cyclists was significantly lower than that of the control group. By significant, I mean 10% to 25% lower. Clearly lighter bones, like lighter bikes, means faster cycling, but there is also significant strength training for the legs hip and back in cycling up steep hills. So it is surprising that doesn’t result in stronger bones. They seem to have adapted to the competitive needs of their environment.

It would be interesting to compare young intensively trained athletes from other sports such as swimming, gymnastics, skating, and skiing to see if the same result is found. This might leave our coaches in a quandary about training regimens.


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