Guest post: The basic 8 of regular exercise

Note: Thank you again to Dr. Steven Jonas for his contribution to this blog. This one is a topic that anyone can learn from. We get so caught up in train-race-repeat it’s easy to forget the underlying reasons we “du” what we do: to be healthy! Train wisely and race with “eyeballs out” (thank you Devon Yanko for the phrase), but remember the long game. 

My apologies again for not writing more often. Busy work, tending to a cat with cancer and a general burnout because of the first two took some wind out of my sails. I’m on the upswing again, so I hope to get back to a more regular schedule soon! Now, on to the expert! — Du it for You

The basic 8 of regular exercise

While some of us live where we can race year-round, in many parts of the country, even with the onslaught of global warming, winter is on its way. And as it comes, those of us who train year-round (which I happened to have done in my 34 years in duathlon), think about what we are going to do, how we are going to train, as the weather limits the amount of time we can safely spend outdoors.

Many years ago, with a strong assist from the legendary track coach Bill Bowerman1, I put together what I call the “Basic Eight of Regular Exercise.” They certainly have helped me to keep on truckin’, and given some thought, they might help you too.

blueberries
Because blueberries are healthy.
  1. The hard part of regular exercise is the regular, not the exercise. Believe me, I know, and live this principle very well. There are surely those mornings (and I workout in the morning) when man, I just don’t feel like getting going. But I do know just how important getting going is. While in my schedule (and I generally workout five days per week) I do take an occasional day off, most of the time I do get going, and then guess what? Ten minutes into the workout I’m very glad I did.

 

  1. The best exercise routine for you is the exercise routine that is best for you. There are numerous choices. One size does not fit all. This applies to duathlon as well as to training for it. There are so many articles that say “do it this way, and you are sure to…” Well, maybe, but, as I have said so many times, just because a particular writer says that it works for him/her, it does not mean that it will necessarily work for you.

 

  1. There are many reasons to exercise regularly, other than for race training. Most folks who do will tell you that regular exercise makes you feel better and feel better about yourself, as well as making you look better and look better to yourself. Those are certainly my principal reasons, even though as a preventive medicine doc I know there are plenty of health-promoting reasons to do it, too.

 

  1. Regular exercise can help you prevent and manage certain diseases and conditions. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain kinds of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis (bone softening associated with aging), being overweight and even depression and chronic anxiety. There are no guarantees here, but the risk goes down for getting all of these major illnesses. It’s also very helpful in managing many of the same conditions.

 

  1. Gradual change leads to permanent changes. Over the course of my own racing life, I have found this one to be true over and over again.

 

  1. 6. Explore your limits; recognize your limitations. This applies to distances, to speed, to the frequency of racing, and to training as well. Can you go faster, go longer? Of course you can (just as I did in my early days in the sport…well, longer, anyway!). Do you want to stay in duathlon? Then you absolutely have to do what works for you, not for someone else.

 

  1. Effective mobilization of your motivation is the key to long-term success, both as a regular exerciser and then as a multisport racer. (We’ll be getting back to this key to exercising regularly in one or more future columns.)

 

  1. We can never be perfect; we can always get better. If you can embed this one in your mind, you can have a long and successful (for you) career in tri/duathlon, regardless of your speed or athletic ability.

1. Walsh, C., The Bowerman System, Los Altos, CA: Tafnews Press, 1983, chap. 3.

This column is based in part on an article that appeared earlier in my series for USA Triathlon, and is used with permission.

Image courtesy of Flickr

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Cyclists needed for Specialized health study

If you read this blog, you probably ride a bike. Probably a lot. Share your cycling habits (no matter how excessive), your bike fit issues, and other general health info for a large study conducted by former Specialized consultant Dr. Roger Minkow.

Minkow hopes to recruit as many as 50,000 cyclists for a study to assess how cycling affects health and how bike fit “fits” into the equation.

“What we are trying to do is address real issues by looking at bike fit and other factors pretty deeply, in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Minkow said in a press release. “We may be able to find out for sure that some saddles are safe and some aren’t, so we can give people some real information that is not just marketing BS.”

The survey takes about 15 minutes.

Read more about the study here.

Read more about Minkow and his work on Specialized’s Body Geometry saddles on his website.

You can access the survey here.

How has cycling influenced your health? How has bike fit helped you stave off injuries?  Share in the comments below!

CODA: My apologies for the brevity of this blog. The Du It For You team of one has been pretty busy with other work projects, and that’s eaten away precious duathlon blog time. I’m continually on the hunt for interesting athlete profiles, race reports, and other duathlon-related training tips. If you have any to share, I welcome guest contributions! Send me a note via the Contact form on this blog. Happy running-riding-running!

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Heart racing? It could be more than race jitters.

Many athletes, especially longtime, high-intensity endurance athletes, have heart-racing stories to tell—in more ways than one.

In 2009, Australian professional triathlete Erin Densham had to be rescued from the water during the Hy-Vee Triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa. Doctors diagnosed her with supraventricular tachycardia, or periodic rapid heartbeat. She had surgery to correct the condition and won bronze in the 2012 London Olympics.

American pro triathlete Justin Park was diagnosed in college with a congenital heart defect that causes heart palpitations and can lead to sudden cardiac death. He struggles with endocrine dysfunction and thyroid issues because of the condition, yet continues to regularly place in the top three in Ironman 70.3 events.

Triathlete
Photo by Bobby Ketchum, Flickr

If you experience an irregular or rapid heartbeat during training, racing, or even at rest, you may have some type of heart arrhythmia, or erratic heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia. It happens when the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers. Most of the time, AFib comes and goes. In some cases, it lingers for months or permanently.

AFib is one of a handful of common arrhythmias among athletes. Bradachardia, or low heart rate; sinus arrhythmia, where the heartbeat fluctuates with breathing; and premature ventricular contractions (PVC), or extra beats, pose no cause for concern. AFib, however, increases your risk for stroke (only slightly in healthy individuals). Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a rare, genetic heart disorder worth noting because it puts affected individuals at risk of sudden death, especially during heavy exercise.

Stronger hearts, higher risk

Older adults, heavy drinkers, and people with high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, and a family history of AFib have a higher likelihood of developing AFib. Oddly, so do the excessively fit. A 2013 study out of University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland reported a five-fold increased risk of AFib in middle-aged endurance athletes “with a striking male predominance.” (Women, take heart.)

Excess inflammation from training, nerve reflexes, a larger heart, and bradycardia are all proposed contributing factors to arrhythmias among endurance athletes, but true causes remain speculative. “We still don’t totally understand it,” says Michael Emery MD, a sports cardiologist and medical director for the Indiana University Health Center for Cardiovascular Care in Athletics.

It’s also unclear just how much exercise leads to increased arrhythmia risk. Will one marathon up your odds? Or does it take repeated Ironmans over decades? “Researchers are working to understand the mechanistic approach and what kind of lifetime ‘dose’ these athletes are exposing themselves to,” says Emery.

One thing is certain: the endurance athlete lifestyle—exercise, healthy eating habits, healthy weight and body fat—reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. So while long-term endurance exercise may increase your risk of an arrhythmia, healthy habits reduce your risk of many other health conditions.

Will AFib end your athletic career, or worse? Probably not. “It’s usually not life-threatening because most athletes are so healthy,” says Emery. “It can be annoying; however, if it becomes disruptive to your lifestyle it could require a procedure or medication.”

If nerves cause your heart to race at the start line, don’t assume you have AFib. It’s difficult for even doctors to determine the difference between race jitters, starting too fast, and an arrhythmia.

One key sign, Emery says, is noticing your heartbeat. “Most people aren’t aware of their heart beating, even during exercise,” he says. “It may be nothing, but if you notice something unusual, it’s worth talking to your doctor about.” If you feel one little flutter, it’s probably okay to keep going. If you experience something more noticeable (see below), stop.

Park monitors his condition regularly, but hasn’t stopped racing. Most athletes with arrhythmias shouldn’t either. “If you want to lower your risk for heart disease and mortality,” Emery says, “lifelong endurance exercise offers the most bang for your buck.”

Arrhythmia warning signs

If you experience any of these symptoms while training or racing—stop. Doctor’s orders!

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • Heart racing or skipping
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain or pressure (This is a medical emergency. Call 911.)

How to decrease your risk

Put less stress on your heart by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Limit caffeine and other stimulants (check your supplements for hidden sources).
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. (You’re already doing this, right?)
  • Get adequate recovery. Overtraining stresses the heart in more ways than one.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can precipitate some arrhythmias.
  • Reduce stress. Intense stress and anger up the odds for heart rhythm problems

Du It For  You note: A magazine editor assigned me this story. The magazine’s then-new editor-in-chief promptly killed it. Because I haven’t found a home for it yet, and because I think it’s worthwhile information for veteran endurance athletes, I’m publishing it here. If you’re an editor and interested in this story, get in touch!