By Kevin Kolodziejski
“When all is said and done, more is said than done.”
It’s certainly a witty one-liner, but is what legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz once said and then — in his inimitable fashion — said again and again and again really true? I’m not sure how you’ll answer, but I’m torn between “Unfortunately” and “Of course.” It’s those two answers to a large extent that determine what you read every other week in this column.
Articles that warn Holtz’s infamous adage is indeed accurate but suggest ways to make it false for you.
From Lou Holtz to Chris Hemsworth
Besides a boatload of success while at ND, Lou Holtz is the lone college football coach to lead six different schools to bowl games as well as the only one to place four different schools in the final top-20 rankings. The only acting he has ever done, though, occurred in a Discover Card commercial a dozen years ago. Which means he’s not the actor referred to in the title — and that it’s time to explain who is.
He’s somebody I’m told everyone knows. Everyone, that is, except me.
The first time I knowingly laid eyes on Chris Hemsworth was not in one of the several Marvel Cinematic Universe movies where he portrays Thor or any of the other 13 movies listed in his Fandango filmography. But when I clicked on a WebMD article about Alzheimer’s disease written by Batya Swift Yasgur, Hemsworth was pictured at what appeared to be a press conference. He’s a handsome-looking dude, possessing the rugged goods looks of an action-movie star, but I digress.
The article explains that the 39-year-old Aussie has decided to take a break from acting because he took a series of genetic tests as part of Limitless, a National Geographic docuseries available at Disney+ and now knows he has two copies of the APOE4 gene (one from each of his parents). That statistically increases his risk to eventually develop the disease that frightens even the most fearless movie superheroes.
Not a Geneticist, Just an Optimist
I’m not a geneticist. Admittedly, I don’t know that much about heredity and the potential variations of inherited characteristics. If you want to read more about that and specifically how it applies to Hemsworth’s situation, check out Laura Ironmonger’s article for The Sydney Morning Herald (https://www.smh.com.au/by/lauren-ironmonger-p5365j). But I am an optimist. So I’m pretty good at plucking out the positivity in whatever I’m reading.
So I can find solace in the aforementioned WebMD article despite the fact it calls having two copies of the APOE4 gene one of the most significant genetic risk factors for getting Alzheimer’s disease. Or that it increases a person’s risk of it by about 15 percent, and “people with two copies may start having symptoms 10 years earlier than the average person [who develops Alzheimer’s].” The solace comes from Howard Fillit, MD, co-founder and chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, but only after he explains the real cause for concern: APOE can bind to beta-amyloid, a protein that can create plaque in the brain — a plaque that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s because Fillit’s also stresses your genes are not your destiny.
Not Cockeyed Optimism, But Supported by Science
That’s not cockeyed optimism. It’s a belief supported by science, as well as another doctor interviewed in the WebMD article. Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, says, “Our genes may influence our risk of developing a certain condition,” but that those genes can be “turned on” or “turned off.” Just as often as not, that control switch gets flipped either way by the ways in which you live your life.
Good News for Cyclists
The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care states “12 changeable risk factors” play a role in 40 percent of all cases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The good news for you? By my count, seriously committing to the cycling lifestyle lessens the risk inherent in half of them.
That’s because serious cyclists aren’t going to smoke, consume excessive amounts of alcohol, or eat so much or so poorly they develop type 2 diabetes or obesity. And they’ll certainly exercise regularly enough to avoid the other health problems that result from physical inactivity. That includes depression since cycling is at its core a social activity. While it would seem too obvious to say that by cycling seriously you are significantly minimizing the odds the Alzheimer’s switch in your DNA gets flipped on, any mention of DNA right now serves as a suitable segue, so I’ll do so.
Because it’s quite possible (dare I say probable?) you feel cycling is such a part of you that —in a manner of speaking and a hard-to-explain way — it’s in your DNA. I know I do. But I also feel something else, something just as hard to explain. That also somewhere inside you there’s a cycling “dial,” and there are ways you can adjust the setting. I say so because of something that happened to me years ago.
The Cycling Dial Gets Reset
I started training with a group that contained a guy who was totally out of my league. A local legend. A former pro. But here’s the deal. He seemingly wasn’t putting in the effort that had made him both anymore — yet he still got top-notch results when he raced.
When we got into race-breakaways together, for instance, the guy put an absolute hurting on me. But that hurting actually felt good compared to the one he’d dole out in a finishing sprint.
In short and quite clearly, this guy’s more genetically blessed than I.
In fact, the only time in over 15 years or so that I pipped him in a sprint was when it was on an uphill, for eighth place — and a whole $20 was at stake. But I did get to the point where I was not only comfortable accompanying him in breakaways, but also pulling at a similar speed.
What Caused the Cycling Reset?
Not more miles or more intensive training sessions. From riding behind the guy as often as possible on training rides. From watching his body language. Seeing when he shifted and into what gear. Learning to be more efficient in my efforts.
Doing that allowed me to adjust the cycling dial inside all of us and get more out of my time on the bike than I ever could’ve imagined.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.