Health and Fitness Versus Performance Revisted
This is a follow-up to my last blog regarding the potential downside to excessive training.
With the news that one of my cycling acquaintances recently underwent 7 ½ hours of back surgery, and not so recently, the placement of an arterial stent to combat arterial blockage, I want to point out that this athlete with more than 50 years of racing experience, is not atypical of my observations. This is an incredibly common phenomenon with those who train in the extreme with the goal of excelling in sports competitions. Join the after-ride coffee chat of the local bike club someday and if it is anything like the local club, you could publish an issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) just from the maladies of those gathered.
I have been through two major, multiple year, athletic training cycles as an adult – one led to three national running titles and the other led to a national cycling title and a national time trial record which still stands. I would say that in both instances, I was considerably healthier, and looked and felt better after I retired, and had been on a regimen of non-competitive type, fitness training. I am now about 11 months out from my retirement from bicycle racing. Physiologically, my cardiac system has undergone an interesting change. My erstwhile resting heart rate, which was in the low 40s, is now in the high 50s. Unfortunately, when it was in the low 40s, I could not get through one minute of feeling my pulse without experiencing numerous skipped/missed beats and I underwent occasional bouts of AFIB (atrial fibrillation) and atrial flutter. This culminated in spending 4 days in the cardiac ward a couple of days after winning cycling titles and kicking young butt at the Georgia Senior Olympics. I underwent two procedures under general anesthesia including an ablation procedure for atrial flutter. My heart no longer suffers these arrhythmias of extra/missed beats and I have not suffered an incident of AFIB since my retirement from “excessive” training and racing.
I have gained 12 pounds of muscle and I look, feel, and simply AM physiologically better than I was as a competitive athlete. My PSA level is the lowest it has been in many years. By the way, for you competitive athletes, I do get it. I was well aware of the phenomena of which I preach, but I was willing to pay the potential price to achieve my athletic goals. You should be aware of these potential downsides and also be willing to pay the potential price.
My current exercise regimen, which has me feeling better than ever, consists of 6 days a week of aerobic training utilizing either a bicycle outdoors, a spin bike in my home gym, or my NordiTrack cross-country ski machine. I still do sessions of interval training, which even for a non-competitor gives one the best bang for the buck in achieving optimal fitness. I do two days a week of weight training and do my heavy training day on the day that I skip an aerobics workout.
I believe that inflammation and arterial blockage are two of the biggest enemies of the body and I combat that through my “sensible” aerobic exercise and supplementation including the anti-inflammatory agent, ZyFlamend, l-arginine Complete for cardiac health and the taking of .81 mg of aspirin daily. You can find more information on supplementation by searching my past blogs.
We love to extol the virtues of those who complete multiple marathons and compete in Ironman events, but some of the later stories of these competitors are rather grim. I so recall my friend, teammate, national class athlete and record holder, renowned cardiologist and medical editor of “Runner’s World” magazine, Dr. George Sheehan, telling me, “We are probably immune from cancer because of the way we train.” Unfortunately, the good doctor is no longer with us having died from metastasized prostate cancer at my current age of 74. There are too many stories similar to George’s.
If you choose the path of extreme training for performance/competition rather than training for health and fitness, just be aware that you might join the legions of athletes that I am aware of that wound up sitting in the waiting room of oncologists, cardiologists, urologists and orthopedic surgeons.
I used the photograph of an owl for this piece for very specific reasons. The owl is said to be wise, and this particular owl is obviously trying to get your attention!