Many endurance athletes consider themselves to be fit people. If you are one, the last thing on your mind might be your bone health. After all, you might spend many hours each week cycling, swimming, or elliptical training. Because you work out so much, you may erroneously assume your bone health is impeccable. Sadly, this estimation might be far from the truth.
If your fitness program consists of mostly non-weight-bearing, or even minimally-weight-bearing, workouts, your bones are likely not getting exercised enough. Actually, because of the variations in energy outflow and bone-loading qualities required in endurance sports, you might face a disadvantage with regards to bone health comparative to other types of athletes, or even inactive people. Thankfully, regardless of the type of endurance sports you participate in, you can start improving your bone health today by adding some weight-bearing exercises to your fitness routine and working to minimize calcium and hormone deficiencies.
Improving Bone Strength through Weight-Bearing Exercise
Concerning bone health, all exercise is not created equal. While non-weight-bearing and minimally-weight-bearing cardiovascular activities such as cycling, swimming, and elliptical training are certainly beneficial to your heart and mental health, they typically don’t strengthen your bones. In fact, solely engaging in these activities might end up being detrimental to them. To maximize bone mass and slow bone loss, you need to concentrate your efforts on weight-bearing exercises. In general, bone strengthening workouts should encompass:
- Workouts that involve the stress of gravity
- Exercises that include some form of impact
- Workouts that include faster moves versus slower ones
- Fitness routines that engage a vast array of muscle groups
- Workouts that surpass 70 percent of your maximal capacity
If you desire to maximize bone mass while slowing bone loss, you may need to think outside of the box where cardiovascular exercise is concerned. Popular cardiovascular workouts such as walking, cycling, swimming, and elliptical training don’t provide the weight-bearing stimulation your bones need. For optimal bone health, consider embracing activities such as:
- Stair climbing
- Jumping rope
- Step aerobics
- Kettlebell training
If you can’t set aside an extended period of time for this type of workout each day, don’t despair. Cumulative, short durations of weight-bearing exercise throughout the day are also beneficial.
Strength training involves utilizing a type of resistance, free weights, weight machines, or your own body weight, to stress subgroups of bones and muscles. To encourage new bone growth, you need to complete weight training workouts a minimum of two times per week. One beneficial weight training move for endurance athletes, and non-athletes alike, is the hip abductor strengthening move. The hip abductor strengthening maneuver will not only strengthen your hips, it will improve your balance as well. Obviously, outstanding balance is crucial for endurance athletes. To complete this simple exercise, you will need to:
- Stand erect while grasping the back of a chair with one hand.
- With your other hand resting atop your pelvis, extend this leg straight out to the side.
- Ensure your toes point forward and your hand and pelvis don’t flinch upwards.
- Slowly lower your leg.
Complete ten repetitions of this move with both of your legs two to three times each week. To increase the effectiveness of the exercise, add an ankle weight that is heavy enough that you cannot perform the move with the proper technique more than ten times.
Improving Bone Health by Minimizing Deficient Areas
When you were a child, your parent or guardian might have encouraged you to drink lots of milk in order to grow strong, healthy bones. With the numerous studies touting the benefits of calcium on bone health, it’s not surprising that milk has been the beverage of choice in school lunchrooms for years. For the endurance athlete, consuming the recommended daily allowance of calcium might be especially important. According to a research study by Specker, if you don’t consume a certain calcium threshold per day, the effect of exercise on your bone mass might be insignificant. Therefore, endurance athletes might require more calcium than others to enhance their bone strength. Active people are recommended to meet the following calcium guidelines daily:
- Adolescents – 1,300 milligrams
- Adults aged 18 to 50 years-old – 1,000 milligrams
- Adults over the age of 50 – 1,200 milligrams
Besides exercise and calcium, hormones affect bone health as well. For men, testosterone deficiencies contribute to bone loss as do estrogen deficits in women. To compensate for estrogen loss as they age, some women turn to hormone replacement therapy. Unfortunately, the potential harmful side effects of this type of treatment often outweigh the benefits in some females’ minds. While consuming the recommended daily calcium intake and engaging in weight-bearing exercises might limit some of the bone loss associated with hormonal shortfalls, these actions aren’t an adequate substitution for hormone replacement therapy.
If you’re an endurance athlete, you might already have a full plate on your hands. But, to improve your chances of living a long, healthy life, you need to concentrate on protecting your bone health. Thankfully, you can accomplish this task by participating regularly in weight-bearing exercises, consuming the recommended daily amounts of calcium for your age and activity level, and monitoring the hormones that affect bone health.
Contact Dr Pardino today an appointment today!
Dr. Sydney Pardino is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, and Shoulder Surgery.