Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cycling Past 50

This is the name of a new book I'm reading by Joe Friel, author of The Cyclist's Training Bible and scores of other books on competitive sports. This is one of the most hopeful books I have ever read. There is more and more quality research showing that regular exercise of good intensity virtually arrests completely the effects of aging on trained athletes.

Among a long list of physiological statistics reported from longitudinal studies are that cyclists and runners who continue to train regularly, and maintain the intensity of their workouts, lose less than 2% of their VO2 max capacity in the 10 years between their 50th and 60th birthdays! One large test group was followed from 45 to 55 and actually increased VO2 max by 5 ml/kg/min. Changes in BP remained statistically insignificant, and resting pulse actually dropped 5bpm. Even max heart rate only dropped from 177 to 170 from 50 to 60. About the only effect of getting older is a greater need for sleep and recovery time.

Just to let all of you 30-somethings in on the big secret, somewhere around 40 you will no longer be able to binge on coffee, push harder, ignore your fatigue, and make it happen. As the poster boy for Type A I am speaking from experience. Trying this is what led to a total collapse, a mis-diagnosis of chronic fatigue, and 3 years of recovery. The good news is there are simple coping mechanisms if you chose to deal with this reality and not try to ignore it.

First and foremost, kill your TV. Get to bed early enough to add 7-10 hours of sleep each week there. Failing that, learn to sleep in on weekends. Go to bed 2-3 hours early on a Friday night and sleep in till noon - or push that back a day if it works better in your schedule. Third, if you can, take a mid-day nap. Even a 20 minute nap will produce dramatic results. Now that I have a BP cuff I know that a nap, and good sleep in general, dramatically lowers BP. I can easily drop from 160/90 to 135/75 from a short nap. I also find a nap does a great job of "rebooting" my mind, and I am usually much sharper and more creative after clearing my mind with a nap.

I hate to say this, because it runs against the grain of being the good husband/wife, dad/mother, but you really have to be brave enough to be a little selfish here. If you are a professional and have one of those jobs where you are working on problems in your head all the time, ask around, and I think you will find these coping mechanisms are common practice for middle and senior management - especially naps. (keep this in mind if you need a favor from a senior manager) Explain this to family members and recruit their support. Decades from now you'll be an inspiration to them when you're still going at a pace within a hair's breadth of today's.

Yes, I wish so badly it hurts that I could still "power through" fatigue and just get it done, but by the end of your 30s, those days are usually gone, and I think when we understand the role of sleep better we will understand that pushing yourself, even in youth, is really about building up a sleep debt - one that has to be paid back. Beyond that, for any given day's performance, going into the event with a really good night's sleep is worth as much as 10% in terms of performance. If you lift weights you will notice this immediately.

So live well, live smart, play hard, but keep the sleep debt in check. It takes a heavy toll on so many of the body's systems that "beauty sleep" is truly the beauty that isn't just skin deep. There are many more decades of joy ahead for those that manage their physical resources well!

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