Performance, Fitness and Health

Cycling has been a major focus of mine over the last 3 years. It started with an indoor trainer to get some more regular aerobic activities, but one thing led to another and now I’ve got a coach and I’m riding Gran Fondos, 100 mile rides in the mountains with timed segments. I’m still seeing improvements and I’m enjoying the challenge and time on the bike, so I’ll be continuing into next year.

It started with a concern for health, became fitness, then a focus on performance itself. Other than some walking, it’s been my exclusive fitness activity.

Now I’m being influenced by those advocating a more balanced approach for “Grand Master” athletes like me. A big influence here has been Colby Pearce who has a fascinating podcast that fits into my philosophy of teaching to learn what it is you’ve learned.

Colby had Phil Cavell as a guest on his podcast which he calls Cycling in Alignment. The discussion of the effects of hard, focused training on the aging body led me to Phil’s book, The Midlife Cyclist: The Road Map for the +40 Rider Who Wants to Train Hard, Ride Fast and Stay Healthy.

Most impressive is the evidence that the book lays out supporting a U shaped curve of the effects of training on health. Like many stresses, as you turn up the heat, there are positive adaptation. But at some point, more stress is not better, and outcomes are worse.

For example, working at a boring job is not good for mental health. As the challenge and stress increase, the accomplishment is good for mood, mental energy and relationships. Go past a certain point and you get depression, anxiety, burn out and illness. Lots of individual differences here, but the general principle of dosing stress seems to hold whether its physical or mental.

It seems these issues of aging and fitness are a consequence of an aging population, like me, who has pursued some kind of physical activity since youth, a trend that started in my youth as outlined nicely in this Sports Illustrated story: Sports aging: The quest to prolong athletic mortality – Sports Illustrated

In the late 1960s and early ’70s regular people began running, not just to catch the bus but for fitness and longevity. Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons and Jim Fixx became icons. Weightlifting, long avoided in high-level sports for fear of injury and decreased flexibility, was embraced.

It looks like it doesn’t take too much added general conditioning activities to counter the lack of weight bearing along with the unnatural position and biomechanics of cycling. It seems to me the Apple Fitness program has come along at exactly the right time to give me the perfect complement to the aerobic activities on the bike by adding some weekly strength training and general conditioning.