The Veteran Cyclist's HeartAgeing affects the musculo-skeletal system (bones, muscles, joints), heart muscle and mind. Everything slows down with time. Aches and pains become more troublesome as time passes. Getting up in the morning is more difficult and recovery is slower. Knee and backache are common problems affecting senior cyclists. Osteoporosis is problematic for ageing female cyclists as spontaneous fractures may affect the spine if the process is advanced. Reflexes become impaired as well as response. Balance problems and poor vision can result in a propensity to self-induced accidents. The heart is not spared.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a major killer of males in the age-group 40-60 years. Manifestations are sudden and unpredictable. Subtle symptoms and signs include chest pain, palpitation, breathlessness, insomnia, heartburn and swollen ankles. Cycling-induced arrythmias are also typical of underlying blocked arteries. The dangers, if ignored, are unstable angina, fatal arrythmia, heart failure or heart attack. In many males over 50-years, a heart attack can prove fatal, especially in obese subjects. And don't forget - strenuous cycling and exhaustion can precipitate heart disease or a heart attack, in susceptible ageing cyclists.
That gentle, regular, aerobic exercise, such as cycling is good for you, was never in dispute. That a better quality of life is experienced, is not disputed. That gentle cycling offers health and wellness benefits, is not disputed. That cycling is a low impact form of exercise is not disputed. That gentle cycling can be part of a cardiac rehabilitation program (naturally under medical supervision) is not disputed.
Unfit, 40-60 year-old, obese males are at risk. That strenuous cycling or exercise can participate a heart attack during or shortly thereafter, is not disputed. That individuals who smoke cigarettes and have unchecked hypercholesterolaemia, will sustain a premature and major cardiovascular event, is not disputed. Cycling cannot compensate for these major cardiac risk factors. Undetected, "culprit", lesions of the coronary arteries can prove lethal. Cardiac death is the major killer of man. An acute myocardial infarction strikes like a poisonous adder- swift and deadly. Cycling cannot always prevent this, especially in individuals with a strong genetic predisposition for premature cardiac disease. The heart is "central" to the body. A major event will radically and permanently change the lifestyle, if he or she survives. The reader's attention is focused on the following points gleaned from published data:
Don't cycle with a "dicy" heart - consult a doctor first.
Uncontrolled hypertension is a killer in its own right - it causes eventual coronary artery narrowing, heart-attacks and strokes. A persistent blood pressure of greater than 140 over 90 on no medications) needs permanent and ongoing medical attention. Pills may be needed. Many have very severe side-effects that affect cyclists. Trial and error is often needed. Compliance may be a problem. Some pills cause weakness, fatigue, swollen ankles and cramps. Angina can be precipitated.
Uncontrolled, elevated cholesterol and triglyseride levels over years, is lethal. Diet is important, but only effective in 12% of cases. Statins are effective in lowering blood cholesterol and benefit persons with elevated blood lipids. Compliance is a major problem for cyclists. Side-effects are very common and include insomnia. Life-long treatment is often indicated. The medications are expensive. Many cyclists abandon the use thereof, due to non-compliance. Salmon-oil and 3-omega fatty acids may be a substitute. Control trials are not available, and evidence-based benefits are outstanding.
Chest pain, choking or a squeezing sensation in the root of the neck is often a sign of significant heart disease. Radiation of the sensation into the jaw or arm on exertion or cycling needs urgent medical attention. This means consultation with a cardiologist for expert advice. A heart scan and stress ECG may be indicated. These tests are not 100% accurate. Cardiac catherization may be indicated. In critical cases, angioplasty or bypass surgery may be needed. Unstable angina is a serious condition and a fore-runner of a heart attack. Fortunately, there is treatment to address this. Careful cycling will be possible again, under medical supervision.
Lose weight, and ride a "light" bike. Be careful of the big blade and steep hills. Strenuous cycle tours over 40 km, in hot weather can be hazardous. Acquire a triple front blade, road bike, for hilly terrain. A mountain bike is an alternative, but frame-weight is important. Morbid obesity is a dangerous cardiac risk factor.
Have a medical check-up if you experience fatigue, breath or chest discomfort. An irregular pulse-rate, also needs medical attention.
Learn to use a heart-rate monitor, especially if cycling in hilly terrain. Be careful not to exceed 140-150 bpm. Remember, cycling speeds up your heart-rate. This could be detrimental for a "dicy" heart. A heart-rate monitor is a valuable acquisition at this age. You won't be sorry.
Make sure you do not have diabetes mellitis.
Reduce stress and modify your life-style after fifty.
Cyclists get heart attacks! Be alert to warning signs. Angina (chest discomfort on exertion) does not always go away. Medical treatment is needed and is effective.
Rest the week before the Argus Cycle Tour.
Don't cycle if you don't feel well at this age. Have your heart checked out. When last was your blood pressure and cholesterol checked?
Ride Your Best Argus Ever. Du Toit, Engelbrecht, Welgemoed and O'Connor. ISBN 0624037452 (2001: Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town).
Serous Cycling. Burke. ISBN 087322759x.
The Cyclist's Training Bible. Friel. ISBN 0713650842.
Nutrition for Cyclists. Bicycling Magazine. ISBN 0878579354.
The Lorer of Cycling. Beneke et al ISBN 0195705483.