A friend’s question gave me a nudge to flesh this out.
My pal asked, “am I damaging my health by pursing my endurance dreams?”
The science seems clear => you are very, very unlikely to screw up your health by exercising. Most everyone could benefit from exercising a little more often.
My demographic is different than the general public.
Call us the “screw the limit” exercisers.
What about us?
I’m fortunate to have a group of endurance mentors that are moving through their 60s, 70s and 80s with many, many, many (!) years of chronic endurance training under their belts. Some of their hearts, and joints, are coming off the rails.
It’s tempting to “blame” exercise for their issues but that ignores the problems they avoided through exercise (high blood pressure not received, depressions not experienced, diabetes not developed, harmful addictions successfully managed).
That said, whenever I find myself asking a question about excess, the fact that I’m asking is, in itself, part of the answer.
If you’re already exercising daily then you’re not going to find any doctor to advise you that you need to ramp that up by a factor of 2-5x.
…and you may find yourself reaching out to someone like me to get comfort that it’s OK to do a little less.
In doing a little less, but continuing to exercise daily, you will reduce your risk of ruin.
“Ruin” being the loss of the benefits from daily exercise.
Risk of ruin is what encouraged me to do less.
Immune system failure, bike crashes, lower leg injuries, death by avalanche/car accident… each is extremely inconvenient.
In doing less, I discovered unexpected benefits of eliminating chronic endurance => improved sex drive, better cognitive ability, happier joints, less cravings and additional muscle mass.
If you’re under 50, or pre-menopausal, then my benefits list will make more sense in a few years!
What about that Tour de France study about longevity? (abstract linked)
While extreme, I’m not writing about Tour athletes.
Chronic endurance is about chasing podiums for decades after your elite career.
It’s not surprising TdF athletes live longer than their peers. The constitution required to get to the start line creates a special cohort.
A better cohort to review is “masters age-group champions” across 10, 20, 30, 40 years and compare them to “daily exercisers”.
There’s not much money to be made studying healthy people so I wouldn’t hold your breath on seeing my alternative study!
Frankly, I wouldn’t expect there to be much difference in longevity. You’d be studying two healthy populations.
Our findings underpin the importance of exercising without the fear that becoming exhausted might be bad for one’s health.
Lifespan isn’t the point.
Being exhausted is horrible for our relationships.
Look around and you will see that relationships are what we lack in later life, particularly if our favorite hobbies involve being alone… 😉
Quality of life and keeping a lid on my risk of ruin… that’s what interests me these days.
None of these benefit from chronic endurance.