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Why runners have stronger bones than cyclists

Runner's World UK logo Runner's World UK 25/05/2021 Rick Pearson
a person riding a skateboard down the side of a road: A study suggests that, when it comes to bone strength, endurance runners have the upper hand on their two-wheeled contemporaries © vm - Getty Images A study suggests that, when it comes to bone strength, endurance runners have the upper hand on their two-wheeled contemporaries
  • Italian study suggests that weight-bearing exercises, such as running, help to create better long-term bone health than non-weight-bearing activities, such as cycling and swimming
  • The study compared the bone health of ultra-distance cyclists and runners
  • The ultramarathon runners had higher P1NP levels – an indication of bone health – at rest compared to the control group

Cyclists may have the better coffee and nattier clobber. But there’s one area in which they seemingly can’t compete with runners: bone strength.

That’s according to a study presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology that found that exercise that puts greater strain on your skelly, such as running, may improve long-term bone health more than non-weight-bearing activities, such as cycling.

The researchers were particularly interested in runners and cyclists who like to take their sport to the extreme. Previous research found that cyclists participating in ultra-endurance conditions suffered chronic bone resorption, when calcium from the bones is released into the bloodstream, weakening the bones.


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Keen to discover if the same were true of runners who participated in ultra-distance events, the researchers measured the levels of hormones in 12 trained ultrarunners before and after a 65km (40.4 mile) race.

The researchers identified two proteins key to bone formation – osteocalcin and P1NP. The levels of osteocalcin and P1NP in the blood are good indicators of bone health.

It was found that, during the race, the runners had falling levels of the two chemicals. Crucially, however, the ultramarathon runners had higher P1NP levels at rest compared to the control group (made up of 12 adults of the same age who didn’t run the race, but did partake in low to moderate physical exercise).

This, the researchers say, suggests runners may divert energy from bones during ultra races, yet have a net gain in bone health in the long-term.

Speaking about the findings, lead author Dr Giovanni Lombardi said: ‘The everyday man and woman need to exercise moderately to maintain health. However, our findings suggest that those at risk of weaker bones might want to take up running rather than swimming or cycling.’

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