Login | November 21, 2018

The excessive endurance exercise hypothesis cont’d

Pete’s World

Published: November 27, 2017

Last week I presented several study’s worth of data on a malady that’s been termed “The Excessive Endurance Exercise Hypothesis.” It postulates that aerobic activities performed above the national guidelines (more than 450 minutes a week), over a period of years, can have deleterious effects on white males by the time they reach middle age.

This despite the fact that most of the men studied had lived within an acceptable range of BMI, hypertensive state, lipid profile, resting heart rate, and HDL level.

Some of the deleterious effects of this over-exercising hypothesis include coronary artery calcification, strokes, and heart arrhythmias. Finally, these researchers also believe that our genetics may play a critical role in determining the “exercise safety threshold” of an individual.

I concluded the column by revealing that at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease, despite the fact that I appeared to be in excellent condition for a man my age.

After seven hours of open heart surgery, months of rehab, and plenty of time to think, a few questions dogged me: Was I one of those guys who after some 30 years of high intensity/high volume aerobic activities, bear the detrimental effects of Excessive Endurance Exercise; if so, should I have done things differently; and what could I do today to help save a life tomorrow?

Before answering these questions, I want to provide a quick synopsis of my several decades worth of decisions and activities which may have set me up for this affliction.

First, I have to admit that ever since my early 20’s when I dove full throttle into fitness and endurance sports, I pretty much believed such behavior would render me invincible to “lifestyle” diseases like arteriosclerosis, diabetes, stroke, obesity etc., this notwithstanding a family history of heart disease.

Now the high volume stuff, well, that kind of evolved - I never really had a more-is-better mindset. Quite simply, my love of training, racing, and the whole world that surrounded it - the people, the travel, the venues, the personal satisfaction of having given my best in pursuit of an athletic goal - all coalesced into a massive catalyst for increased exercise volume.

Training, racing, and working out became my M.O., and across many years I went through multiple phases of cycling, marathoning, triathloning, hiking/backpacking, and ultra-distance cycling, where on any given week I could log twenty to thirty hours of activity.

Fast forward to the May 10th, 2016 when I was riding my mountain bike across the US on dirt and gravel tracks. Amidst a sunny day, way up in the middle of nowhere land, on an 8000-foot mountain pass in central NevadaI I suffered a mild heart attack. Somehow I managed to pedal back to civilization.

The lead cardiologist at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital told me that based on the severity of the blockages I was lucky to be alive. I was stunned. Heck, everyone who knew me was stunned. I was healthy, fit, and really didn’t display those typical CAD (coronary artery disease) symptoms. What followed was five-bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and a long, long journey back to me becoming myself again.

Now the questions? World-class cardiologists both here at the Clinic and in NV have told me it’s very plausible that the excessive endurance exercise coupled with my genetic propensity for cardiovascular disease could have worked against me, eventually melding together into a catastrophic double whammy.

I will say without hesitation, I would not have altered my workout history had I known then what I know today about the Excessive Endurance Exercise Hypothesis. I loved those years of training and racing that much.

BUT, as I look back at the several years prior to my heart attack, I indeed recall sensing a few subtle warning signs, namely a steadily decreasing cardiovascular output, a progressing malaise, and infrequent bouts of shoulder blade tightness. Those were symptoms I regret brushing off as aging manifestations, and those were years of denial that almost killed me.

So I say to you men in your 40’s and 50’s who have been involved in years of high volume aerobic activities…and may have a family history of heart disease…and may perchance be experiencing seemingly minor physical aberrations that just don’t feel right…I implore you to get a thorough physical…now.

Don’t try to be as lucky as me.