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Dutch study: Two thirds of pro riders have poor bone health

Research by a Dutch university has shown a high prevalence of low bone density in pro riders, putting them at risk of conditions such as osteoporosis.

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A study by a Dutch university has shown a high prevalence of low bone density in professional cyclists, putting them at an increased risk of fractures and conditions such as osteoporosis.

The research conducted by the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen, Netherlands, concluded that two-thirds of professional cyclists had poor bone density. A total of 93 elite and professional riders, both male and female, took part in the study.

According to the study, low bone density particularly affected women early in their careers, while it impacted both men and women in the later stages of their careers. It added that density rates “may not fully recover” after a rider stopped racing with a “substantial prevalence” shown in retired professionals, too.

Also read: How pro teams use HRV: Health alarms, burnout buzzers, rest day deciders

The study reported that cyclists with higher bone density also had higher body mass indexes (BMI), while riders with a history of taking part in osteogenic activities such as soccer or gymnastics also had higher density rates. It cited low body weight, a lack of mechanical loading on the skeleton, low energy availability, and chronic exercise stress as possible causes of low bone density.

Low bone density can make people more susceptible to breaking bones, particularly later in life, and can lead to the development of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and makes them more fragile.

In addition to taking bone density measurements across the body, the study also tested blood markers as a way of identifying energy availability.

The research showed that in “advanced career male” cyclists, low bone density was “most evident” in the lumbar spine with 65 percent of the riders tested having a poor bone density in that region. Meanwhile, 45 percent of female cyclists in the same part of their career had low bone density in their lumbar spine.

In riders during the early stages of their careers, it was women who showed higher rates of low bone density in their lumbar spines with 45 percent compared to 27 percent of men.

For riders who had completed their careers — participants had a minimum of five years WorldTour racing, or comparable, and were aged over 50 with at least one year since their retirement — 50 percent of the men had low bone density while just 20 percent of the women did.

The study concluded that osteogenic activities should be incorporated into training regimens, while resistance training could also help to maintain good levels of bone density.