Anti-Aging: 9 Weight-Bearing Activities for Strong Bones – Road Bike Rider

By Coach John Hughes

I was riding uphill with a buddy in his early 70s. His front wheel kissed my rear wheel and he went down. We were only going about six mph and he just fell sideways … and broke his hip! He had been diagnosed with osteoporosis, which is significantly lower than normal bone density. He loved riding his bike, didn’t do much weight-bearing exercise and suffered as a result. Fortunately, he recovered and we’re back riding. Half the Americans over age 50 have osteopenia.

In the winter you aren’t riding as much and this is a good time to work on strong bones. Farther down in this column I suggest nine different weight-bearing activities. All of these can be integrated into your life without making time for special weight-bearing workouts.

Use it or lose it applies to all parts of you, including your skeleton. You are constantly renewing your bones by making new bone content as old bone content disappears. Total bone mass peaks around age 35. As you age older bones constantly break down and your body makes new bone content. There are two progressive conditions:

  • Osteopenia. Bone mass is lost faster than it is created.  Osteopenia means your bone density is lower than normal, but not causing any problems yet. Osteopenia begins as you lose bone mass and your bones get weaker. This happens when the inside of your bones become brittle from a loss of calcium. It’s very common as you age. People who have osteopenia are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the more serious progression of osteopenia. Your bones lose more density and strength. The light, fragile bones then can place you at a higher risk for fractures and breaks, particularly of the hip and spine, as a result of falls. The best way to diagnose osteopenia versus osteoporosis is with lab test.

One study of male master cyclists in their 50s who had raced for at least 10 years but done little or no weight-bearing exercise found that, “Although highly trained and physically fit, these athletes may be at high risk for developing osteoporosis with advancing age.” Further, “Weight-bearing exercise performed during teen and young adult years did not appear to influence bone density.” (Low bone mineral density in highly trained male master cyclists)

Cycling is easy on your joints because it is not weight-bearing and, for that reason, you need to supplement it with weight-bearing exercise. (Even when a pro sprints standing on the pedals, the racer is putting less than full body weight on the pedals and thus isn’t overloading the skeleton.)

As you get older the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis increases and women are more at risk than men. You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. Family history also increases the risk, as does your frame size: if you’re small you have less bone mass to draw on as you age. You can’t control these risk factors; however, you can do weight-bearing exercise and get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet.

Osteoporosis and even osteopenia can also limit your non-cycling activities. A friend gave up downhill skiing this year because she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Weight-bearing Exercise

The principle of overload applies to your bones just like it does to your muscles. If you overload your bones, they at least maintain bone health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. The greater the load, the stronger the bones get. Recent studies of post-menopausal women indicate that walking does not prevent bone loss because it doesn’t overload the body more than the skeleton is already accustomed to carrying.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends for weight-bearing exercise:

  • Volume: At least 30 to 60 minutes per day three to five days a week.
  • Intensity: High-impact exercise is more effective than low-impact.

Although the ACSM recommendation is at least 30 minutes per day for three days every week, you don’t have to make time for three 30-minute sessions as long as you accumulate a total of at least 90 minutes of weight-bearing exercise each week. You can do many different activities that include weight-bearing exercise — you don’t have to do specific weight-bearing workouts. Any activity that increases the weight on your skeleton and/or the impact on your feet is good. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Hiking with a pack.
  2. Take the stairs, not the elevator:
    • Climbing stairs puts all of your weight on one leg and foot at a time.
    • Stepping down stairs increases the impact of your feet.
  3. Activities of daily living, for example, park away from the grocery store and carry bags of groceries across the parking lot instead of using a cart.
  4. Wear a hydration pack or something similar with 5 – 10 lbs of weight in it for several hours while going about your activities of daily living. Gradually increase the weight or the duration of how long you wear it. Coach Dan Kehlenbach taught me this.
  5. Socialize by taking your significant other dancing one night a week, taking the kids hiking on the weekend and playing a sport with your friends.
  6. Play a sport. Tennis, badminton, racquetball, handball, volleyball, basketball and soccer are high-impact and also require balance and coordination.
  7. Strength training using body weight and free weights rather than machines. The strength training should be hard doing 8 – 12 reps to exhaustion.
  8. Balance exercises on one leg — do these waiting in line while shopping.
  9. Walking with intermittent jogging for active recovery instead of going for an easy bike ride.

This column of mine includes a set of illustrated strength training exercises to help your cycling and strengthen your bones Strength Training for Older Roadies.

Bottom line: Find ways to integrate weight-bearing activities into your exercise program and your activities of daily living.

Calcium and Vitamin D for Strong Bones

Weight-bearing exercise provides the overload to strengthen your bones but you also need calcium and vitamin D to rebuild bone mass.

Vitamin / mineral Men Women Sources
Calcium Calcium works with vitamin D to keep bones strong at all ages. These are special recommendations for older people who are at risk for bone loss. Age 51 to 70 need 1,000 mg (milligrams) and 1,200 mg after 70, Not more than 2,000 mg a day at any age. 1,200 mg (milligrams) per day. Not more than 2,000 mg a day at any age.   Milk and other dairy, some forms of tofu, dark-green leafy vegetables, soybeans, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified foods.
Vitamin D Men and women age 51 to 70 at least 15 mcg (600 IU) per day and 20 mcg (800 IU) over age 70. Not more than 4,000 IU each day at any age. Men and women age 51 to 70 at least 15 mcg (600 IU) per day and 20 mcg (800 IU) over age 70. Not more than 4,000 IU each day at any age. Fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals. Your body also makes vitamin D from exposure to the sun.

Calcium and vitamin D are absorbed by your body much more readily than from a supplement – drink your milk!

Also, be careful with use of steroids such as prednisone and cortisone.

Bottom line: Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D both of which are more readily absorbed from foods than pills.

Off-Season

Don’t take “off-season” literally and stop exercising! My eBook Off-Season Conditioning Past 50: 12 Weeks to Greater Health and Fitness includes sections on dynamic stretching, circuit strength training and balance exercises, all of which can be weight-bearing and a specific section on weight-bearing exercises. The eBook also includes sections on cycling outdoors, cycling indoors and cycling drills. I combine all of these into a flexible 12-week program for those with limited time to train, health and fitness riders, beginning cyclists, recreational and club riders and endurance riders. The 26-page eBook Off-Season Conditioning Past 50: 12 Weeks to Greater Health and Fitnessis just $4.99.

My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes detailed chapters on strength training, balance and weight-bearing exercises, as well as aerobic, high intensity aerobic, and flexibility exercises. 24 photos illustrate the exercises. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I combine the six training modalities (aerobic, intense aerobic, strength, weight bearing, balance and flexibility) into a four-season annual plan. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.


Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.

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