View Full Version : Swimming and Osteoporosis

October 24th, 2005, 02:17 PM
I read an interesting article this morning in Outside magazine. The gist of it is that adult athletes participating in low impact sports (cycling and swimming were specifically mentioned) need to be very careful about osteoporosis. Calcium is consumed when we exercise and apparently the bones aren't triggered to grow unless they are subjected to pretty jarring impact. The kind of thing provided in sports such as running, gymnastics, etc. but not in swimming. The upshot of this is, even though we might be in great shape in many areas, our bones might be in no better shape than the average couch potato's.

A study done on a college basketball team even showed they were losing bone density because they weren't getting enough calcium in their diets. Apparently the 1200 mg of calcium recommended is rarely ingested by most of us, and athletes in heavy training really need even more than that due to the loss of calcium through exercise.

So, the recommendation of the article was to make sure to get enough calcium in your diet either through food or supplements and to get in some exercise in more high-impact sports. The article suggested weight lifting works, but it needs to be sets where failure is reached in eight reps.

I wish I could find a link to the article on the web, but I can't. I did find this from the SPMA web site: http://www.spma.net/swimosteo.htm

Sabretooth Tiger
October 24th, 2005, 02:36 PM
I saw that article. I think weight lifting will help as well for those that can't run due to joint issues.

October 24th, 2005, 02:56 PM
I read Outside from cover to cover. I didn't see the article. However, I've been told that there is a great calcium scare in this contry. I've had two different doctors tell me that the only reason men who are physically active and eat a well balanced diet should ever worry about calcium is if they take certain types of medicines. I take prednisone, that's one that I should be worried about. I've had several bone scans and my bones are in great shape. An exercise/sports doctor told me that the myth about runners having very thin bones was started by sport/nutrition bar makers and that there is no evidence to prove the claim.

October 24th, 2005, 02:59 PM
Originally posted by craiglll@yahoo.com
An exercise/sports doctor told me that the myth about runners having very thin bones was started by sport/nutrition bar makers and that there is no evidence to prove the claim.

Runners don't have thin bones, it's cyclists and swimmers that do.

The story was in the November issue.

October 24th, 2005, 03:05 PM

Did the article give the study source?

October 24th, 2005, 03:12 PM
Yes, there were a couple different studies cited. Sorry I don't have the magazine in front of me or I could tell you exactly what they were.

A Google search turned up this, which may be one of the studies: http://www.afpafitness.com/articles/Boneloss.htm but I can't guarantee it. I know the year was 1996 and Tour de France cyclists were involved, so it's very likely this was one of the studies cited in the article.

October 24th, 2005, 03:19 PM
I read the sited study. I didn't notice if it said how permanent the bone loss was. I would suspect that it was short term because how cyclists eat during a big race. They tend to eat terribly anyway. I woudl like to know how the study controlled the group. It sounded very iffy to me. I wouldn't put too much into this study.

Also, I wonder if the loss of spinal mass had much to do with the constant stress on their backs. I didn't read any that they tested other parts of their body for mass.

October 24th, 2005, 03:43 PM
Although I haven't read the article, I believe it is widely known and accepted that weight baring exercise is necessary to prevent bone loss... at least that is what I have heard for the past 4 or 5 years from my doc. So what is new about this study?

October 24th, 2005, 03:47 PM
Originally posted by laineybug
So what is new about this study?

Nothing at all, really. But I think the general perception--especially among men--is that we don't need to worry about it. Even though the studies cited are years old this was news to me.

October 24th, 2005, 04:39 PM
I recently had a bone scan and learned that at age 31, I already am showing signs of bone loss. Not bad enough to be osteoporosis, but osteopinia, which can lead to osteoporosis. My doctor said it could be caused by a medication I have taken for years, or it could be genetic, that my bones never reached full growth.

I was shocked. I have been swimming Masters (and competing) for three years and swim 4-5 days a week. I drink milk every day and love cheese and other dairy products. I take a multivitamin. Oh, yeah, and I'm well below the age of someone who'd typically have to worry about it.

My doctor said what I've been doing obviously isn't enough to stave off bone loss. And it's permanent. She told me to take a calcium supplement every day and add in weight lifting and/or some other weight-bearing exercise to my routine or the bone loss would continue. The supplement and extra exercise is basically to protect what I have, since I can't get back what I lost.

I guess I'd been living under a rock, I thought exercise was exercise was exercise, that swimming was as good as running or anything else for preventing bone loss. Wish I had heard that years ago, I'd have added other exercise to my regimen.

So, thanks knelson, for posting that message. It's important and there might be people who don't know about the differences in exercise or that they likely aren't getting enough calcium. Can't hurt to mention it to your doctor, just in case.

One thing, though. My doctor said doing any weight lifting would be sufficient. She didn't put parameters on going to failure on eight reps or anything. Now I wonder if I should look further into this.

Peter Cruise
October 24th, 2005, 05:50 PM
One thing I've been told is not to take calcium (like a supplement) with your morning coffee or tea. The calcium is supposedly chemically bound by caffeine & not delivered where it is needed.

October 24th, 2005, 06:04 PM
I received a newsletter from Dave Thomas, the Southern Zone Sport Development rep. for USA Swimming, with some great news! He forwarded a study that stated that swimming was good for bones! I've always heard that you had to have weight bearing exercise to build bone mass. The study he presented in his newsletter said that it was not necessarily true. Good news for me because I don't run or do weights due to past knee and shoulder problems. I scanned the study and thought it seemed legit. Here is the link:

October 24th, 2005, 10:12 PM
I was a cyclist in high school and college, then switched to Masters swimming at age 26. I never did any other sports until 3 years ago when I started lifting weights.

I insisted on a bone density (DEXA) scan last December because I have watched my mother shrink from 5' tall to 4'8", due to osteoporosis. It turned out to be a good thing I did it; my bone density is not good for someone as young as I am (44 years old, T-scores of -2.0 spine and hip).

Further testing revealed that I had a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is stored in the body and if your levels drop too low, you won't absorb calcium properly. I was put on massive doses of Vitamin D for five months to get my levels back up to normal and am now on a daily maintenance dose that is quite a bit higher than the RDA.

Meanwhile I read everything I could on osteoporosis. It is true that to build and maintain bone mass, you must engage in WEIGHT-BEARING exercise. ("Weight-bearing" means working against gravity.) Walking, running, aerobics, weightlifting, basketball, tennis, etc., are all weight-bearing. The only two sports that are NOT weight-bearing are swimming and cycling. (Cycling is not because it's performed in a seated position; swimming is not because, well, you're floating.)

As for weightlifting and how much and how many reps, anything is really OK. In August I was fortunate to be able to see an endocrinologist who is a nationally-known authority on osteoporosis. I described my weightlifting routine to her, which is basically endurance lifting (LOTS of reps, which naturally limits the amount of weight I can lift). She said that was fine and she cautioned me not to lift too much weight, as it could cause a compression fracture of my spine.

For anyone who's really interested in either osteoporosis or Vitamin D, write to me offline and I'll send you some good links.

October 25th, 2005, 11:28 AM
My mother has SEVERE osteoporosis. She has fractured her wrist and her shoulder from falls. I had my DEXA scan done and the doctor said I had the bones of someone 20 years younger than my age! WHOOOHOO!! Made me VERY happy. I did lift weights and run when I was younger. I love dairy foods and definitely take supplements....maybe that is why. I'm going to try to add weight lifting to my routine.

I truly believe ALL WOMEN and MEN need to take Calcium supplements!!

October 25th, 2005, 11:41 AM
After this thread first appeared, I thought "How weird that men shoudl worry about bone loss."
1) There is a huge difference between women & men considering bone loss. Few men have to really worry about it happening to them. Many men get enough calcium and other important minerals just through, even their bad, diet. Many women don't. I have been told that women use calcium differently and that family history plays a very important role in the rate of bone loss as does medical history. The average American man eats plenty fo calcium even if he is a large person or does daily exercisse.

2) The study looked at a very small number of men.

October 25th, 2005, 11:58 AM
Women are definitely more prone than men. That is proven. I've read it has a lot to do with our poor diets, genetics, thinner body build (less weight to bear/ carry around) and estrogen levels falling later in life. Men can have osteoporosis though!

October 25th, 2005, 12:02 PM
Although men can get oesteoporosis, I've been told that it is far more likely for men to get it becasue of family history and/or medication they take. Meds like prednisone, certain seizure meds and some for cardiovascular diseases. It is very uncommon for men though.

October 25th, 2005, 12:13 PM
Originally posted by craiglll@yahoo.com
It is very uncommon for men though.

You may be wrong about this. See: http://www.nof.org/men/

And from a different website (NIH): "After age 50, 6 percent of all men will experience a hip fracture and 5 percent will have a vertebral fracture as a result of osteoporosis."

October 25th, 2005, 12:29 PM
This is from the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
"Of the 10 million Americans estimated to have osteoporosis, eight million are women and two million are men."

October 25th, 2005, 06:53 PM
Also, keep in mind that it may not be as noticeable in men because men tend to have shorter life spans. My own observation is that in my mom and my aunts, they "shrunk" more after age 75.

Another good site: