One foot in the grave

After finishing that very long bicycle ride back on September 9, all 243 miles of it, I have been very tired and very hungry. At least one of my co-conspirators has also felt like, how shall we say it, shit?

Falling asleep at weird times, eating compulsively, general mental and physical malaise … it’s obviously going to take my fragile old skeleton a while to get back to its normally fragile old state. This has caused me to reflect about the toll that this kind of effort takes in a big picture way, not in a “When will I feel good enough to hammer the Donut?” way.

There is a lot of sciencey evidence that says long-interval endurance sports aren’t particularly good for a whole particular bunch of people. Basically, your heart has a finite number of beats. How do you want to spend them? Because riding your bike hard for long distances will get you less mileage out of your heart, not more.

One friend has answered that clearly. She went from suited-up, middle-aged hammerhead to helmetless, floppy shorts-and-flipflops on a beach cruiser. She still gets in 100 miles or so a week, looks great, goes super slow, knows everyone on the beach path, and doesn’t get any closer to a Fartlek than I do to cigar bar.

If you think that lots of hard exercise is good for you, and you believe in science, you have a problem. A study recently came out that says triathletes’ hearts stop a lot more often than other people’s, to the tune of about 1.74 times per 100,000. If you’re over age 60 and for some incredible reason still trying to do three sports badly, your risk skyrockets to 18 per 100,000.

That is crazily out of whack with ordinary Americans, who are the world’s fattest, least active, least healthy people on the planet. In other words, if you’re a couch-sitting, Cheez-it scarfing, beer-swilling slug, there are about .5 heart attacks per 100,000 people. If you sell the couch, swear off the beer, burn the Cheez-its, cancel your 24/7 NFL subscription and start your fake middle-aged-wanker bikeracerunswimming career, your chance of having a heart attack skyrockets to 1.74 per 100,000. If you are in the leaky prostate division, it’s 36 times higher.

[*Note to people who don’t believe in global warming: Since all of the above is based on science and numbers, the same things that drive your Strava account and Garmin, you can ignore it. Please pedal harder for longer.]

It’s easy to understand why all this activity is bad for you. Your heart is a muscle and it wears out. It’s also easy to understand why this would be the same for other activities that require your heart to be more or less pinned for hours at a time, like my ride to Santa Barbara. The effect of extended exertion on the heart has been well documented in an article by Leonard Zinn, published a couple of years ago in VeloSnooze.

We all have sat up after a particularly nasty effort and laughed, nervously, while we said to ourselves or out loud, “This can’t be good for you.”

Well, it’s not.

To which I say, so what? Or better yet, to which I say, listen to this song and get back to me.



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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 300 guests, so get there early.


45 thoughts on “One foot in the grave”

  1. One of the first astronauts was asked what he did to exercise.

    He replied that he believed that “the good Lord gave each one of us a finite number of hearbeats and he didn’t want to use them up prematurely.”

    I fall somewhere in between. I don’t want to use them prematurely if I’m doing something I hate, like working. Riding a bike, making love, climbing a mountain to get a look around, those I can do.

    I also believe that liquor is a slow poison. Fortunately, I’m not in a hurry.

    1. We’re all in a hurry if we examine the amount of time left. It’s just not a voluntary hurry …

  2. Zinn’s article was followed up a book entitled “The Haywire Heart.” It is sobering, to say the least. Of the half dozen folks in my circle of exercise companions, half have had heart issues serious enough to curtail their activities – and these three were the most extreme in their athletic pursuits. Hmmmm.

    1. Not that I’m going to change anything, but it’s pretty funny to think that people actually do extreme exercise because they think it’s good for them, as opposed to doing it because it’s flat-out fun.

      I’m personally not going for time. I’m going for intensity … because … [cue refrain from the song].

      1. You’re approach of “Going down with guns a blazing” is hard to argue against. Red line it Wanky!

  3. Which is why Trump rides a golf cart.

    I’d rather die younger having done something I love than live additional few years, having couch-potatoed during the part of my life when I could have been active.

    1. I agree. The issue isn’t when and how you’re going to go, but whether you got the most out of the minutes leading up to it, however you define “get the most out of.”

  4. East Coast baby seal

    So, which would you rather – be alive longer and feel lifeless, or LIVE for a somewhat reduced time? I’ve made my choice.

    And if we’re evaluating risk, what are the chances of a cyclist being killed by a cager vs killed by a heart problem?

  5. Last triathlon – 1997
    Last bike race – 2016
    Last yoga class – last Sunday
    Last 50 minute spin class – 2 hours ago
    Current mantra: balance

  6. I figure that my heart rate that is not super low at rest at around 50 BPM means that when I’m not exercising I saving 10 BPM which I use riding my bike so it’s basically a wash.

    I’m guessing middle aged profamateurs and any athletic activity at any age is going to highlight any defects in the old blood pump, more effectively than couch surfing while gorging on Cheetos, and NFL Stats (what ever they are) 24/7

      1. The other point is if the your blood pump doesn’t stop, chances are you’ll out live the couch surfers.

  7. My friend’s father, a rotund, ice-cream loving 80+ year old, states his exercise philosophy to me every time we meet: “We have an agreement- I don’t bother my muscles, and they don’t bother me.”

  8. I read about a study by a prestigious university that basically said anything more 10 hours per week of vigorous exercise does more harm than good. With that in mind, as well as for practical reasons, I only bicycle vigorously five or six hours per week.

    Another study I read about said that if you just get up off of the couch and walk vigorously around the block five times a week, you’ll reap about 75% of the benefits that can be had from exercise.

    Hopefully my five or six hours per week is a sweet spot between any urge to pedal my brains out for hours on end and just walking around the block.

      1. The choice isn’t just between dying early, or not. The more likely outcome of chronically over-exercising seems to be that you may cause damage to your heart which will severely restrict the duration, and the intensity, of your athletic pursuits for the remaining decades of your life.

  9. Damn Wanker. You always surprise me. Who would’ve thought your blog would be the place to hear these country legends. Imagine you’re a Highwayman fan as well. Funny thing is no matter who he teams up with Waylon always seems to stand out.

  10. Yep. Ride. Eat. Sleep. Eat. Ride. Eat. Sleep. Die.

    *DEAR LEADER NOTE: He only drinks diet Coke…no water…nothing else. Did you see him toast the UN leaders lunch with a wine glass with flat diet Coke to make it look like wine.

  11. “You’re still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die.
    Still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die.
    So you’d better have some fun ‘Fore you say bye-bye,
    ‘Cause you’re still gonna, still gonna, still gonna die.”

    There is probably someone alive today that will live 1000 years or more
    ……. but it isn’t me.

    Anyway …. as long as healthy and still riding plan to put off being dead as long as possible ….. maybe by being more cyborg …. moving in that direction already with a pacemaker to keep my heart from going to slow ….

    Now if I could just remember where I put it ……………

  12. If you do the maths the extra beats you expend while riding your bike are more than offset by the beats you save during your normal day, which, let’s face it is still at least 90% of your time.
    I did my maths and even assuming 10hrs/wk at 150bpm, I still save 11,000 beats per day over the average couch potato because my heart is just idling the for the other 158hrs of the week.

    1. Exactly right.
      And the astronaut that said we only have a finite amount of beats in the heart is not very bright. He won’t exercise because he doesn’t want to use up his heartbeats, but he’s willing to strap his ass to a rocket. Hmm…

  13. Here is some perspective… You know who else believes that you only have a certain number of heart beats and therefore you should not waste them on exercise? Rhymes with DUMP. For that reason I choose the opposite. I will used them on vigorous exercise. “Its better to burn out than to fade away!” — The Kurgan

    1. “Vigorous” – “Burn Out” – “Fade Away” – These are all extremes. It’s obvious you and I agree politically, but concerning your post – I think everybody could use some time away from the far ends of any spectrum. Quoting a previous poster, “Balance”.

  14. I say skip the risk vs reward calculus because (cue song). What about the fun vs drudgery calculus? In my town, the fast “old guy” ride is an ever changing beast with guys in their late 40s rotating in and guys in their 60s rotating out. In my 60th year, the fun of that ride is increasingly offset by the drudgery required to be fit enough to enjoy the ride. At 40 and even 50 I enjoyed intervals albeit in a masochistic way. Not so at 60.

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