The Midlife Cyclist Heart Road-Map
What does all this mean for you as a Midlife Cyclist? If you are a long-term exerciser, who trains at a high level, and you have not taken a long break from riding, then you may have cardiac re-modelling, which itself maybe intrinsically protective, as well allowing you to access enhanced performance over sedentary individuals.
Elite Master bike-racer, cardiologist and Midlife Cyclist contributor, Dr Nigel Stephens reviews your risk profile thus:
“I don’t generally go looking for trouble with lifelong exercisers”
However, even the well-seasoned midlife athletes should review with their GP the following: family cardiac history, cholesterol-levels, blood-pressure and most importantly, a review any new symptoms. The new or returning cyclist will potentially not have the protective effects of decades of high output endurance exercise – Dr Stephens describes this group as relatively as ‘exercise silent’.
Hence the advice for the new and returning midlife athletes in my book is more prescriptive and comprehensive – the minimum would be -
- Discuss with your GP what training you are planning to do.
- Review with your GP – family-history, blood-pressure, cholesterol-levels.
This can all be assimilated into a QRISK (NHS algorithm-based risk calculation) score.
Dr Stephens further recommends a ramp-test, Cardiac CT / CAC score (plaque review) if indicated by QRISK.
Endurance exercise training is almost certainly beneficial in the short, medium and longer-term. We are after all adapted over millions of years, to perform well in stamina-based challenges. But we have also never lived this long and trained so hard - it is precisely this combination that is exercising the clinical academics and guiding their longitudinal research.
We should all ensure that we compensate for the current (and almost certainly temporary) gaps in midlife biology, with a thorough understanding of our own personal biology (blood-pressure, family-history, cholesterol-levels etc). And then maybe pick your own point on the duration/intensity spectrum – health and fitness at one end and ersatz pro-rider at the other. But please remember also that the further we dial up towards the ‘Pro’ end of the dial, we are doing because we enjoy it, not because we necessarily believe it is good for us.
Oh, and none of this seems to affect female midlife athletes to the same degree as males. Add that to the unknown in-tray.
Final word on the matter is from Midlife Cyclist, FT journalist, Jonathan Derbyshire:
“The point Phil makes about what happens when one moves from "moderate" to "heavy" exercise is an important one. I think I was on exactly the cusp of moving from one to the other when I had my heart attack. And I also fell somewhere between the first and third exercise reality choices - though in my case, ignorance (specifically, of my cholesterol levels) turned out not to be blissful, exactly.”
Thankfully Jonathan is back riding to a good level again after insertion of stents into his coronary arteries.