By Kevin Kolodziejski
Quick, unexpected, and without warning.
It’s the way just about all bicycle crashes occur. It’s also the way most dictionaries define the adjective “sudden.” Yet when was the last time you heard of a cyclist’s unfortunate encounter with a car, concrete, or macadam called a “sudden” bike crash? You hear “sudden heart attack,” however, bandied about all the time.
Why is that?
Consider it a linguistic mystery. One maybe not as confusing as “How can a product be both new and improved?” or as comical as “How can feet smell and noses run?”, but one worthy of your consideration all the same.
Attia’s Explanation of One Linguistic Mystery
Dr. Peter Attia has considered it, and in his book, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity (Harmony, 2023), calls it a mistake. He explains that when someone dies “suddenly” of a heart attack, “the disease had likely been progressing in their coronary arteries for two decades.” He mentions this to impress upon readers the need to be proactive rather than reactive about health. A bit later in the book, he refers to heart disease along with neurodegenerative disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer as “the Four Horseman.”
That allusion — whether biblical or about the four Notre Dame football players atop horses in that famous 1920s photograph — is made for good reason. Too often your attempt to battle against and negate any or all of these four afflictions begins too late, “well after the disease has taken hold.” This leads to a personal apocalypse far worse than any gridiron beatdown the Fighting Irish ever inflicted upon Army or Navy.
Not only is your lifespan reduced, but also the quality of life in your last years is lessened, often to the point where you’re not really living but merely existing. That’s the sort of fate I wouldn’t wish upon any rival, be it for the pigskin, the podium, or the pretty girl — and one you should do your darnedest to avoid.
According to Attia, you can steer clear of bed pans, wheelchairs, and oxygen masks in your golden years and outlive that most important actuarial-chart calculation: your life expectancy. It just requires learning the science and art of longevity, something you can do by reading his aforementioned book. It’s a book that was comfortably ensconced on New York Times Bestseller list when a paper presented on July 21 in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, Nutrition 2023, supported Attia’s assertion, yet also suggested he may be in need of a dictionary.
Is Attia in Need of a Dictionary?
Read by Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen, “Eight Modifiable Lifestyle Factors Associated With Increased Life Expectancy Among 719,147 U.S. Veterans” suggests that there’s no real art, no real craft, no real skill to longevity. That common sense is what’s most required.
The paper uses the medical records and questionnaires accrued between 2011 and 2019 on vets at least 40 years old who participated in the Veterans Affairs Million Veterans Program, a program that aids vets and allows researchers to study how genes, lifestyles, and military experiences and exposures affect their physical and mental health. Over that eight-year span, 30,000 participants passed away. Researchers used that, other existing info, and two established longevity formulas to make a prediction that just about every health and fitness website has since commented upon.
That men who take eight, clearly established good-for-you behaviors and turn them into full-blown habits by the age of 40 will live on an average up to 24 years longer than those who reach that age without adopting any of them. That women on average will gain up to 23 years by doing the same.
A Benefit Too Good to Be True?
If these numbers seem inflated to you, join the club. Initially, I felt that way too. A recollection, albeit a less-than-clear one, caused my skepticism. A hazy memory of a study done a few years ago that predicted a healthy habits lifespan gain of less than half of that, about 10 years. That memory became clearer when a Medical News Today article made reference to it, explained the study was conducted at Harvard, published in 2018, but only considered five of the eight habits.
But does this mismatch really matter? Or even if a subsequent study finds the Harvard estimate to be inflated?
The fact of the matter is these changes improve your quality of life in the here and now and making them isn’t particularly difficult to do. Neither is divulging the healthy behaviors after tantalizing you with them for so long.
Don’t smoke or get addicted to opioids; consume alcohol no more than occasionally; manage stress; develop and maintain positive relationships; sleep sufficiently; eat healthfully; exercise regularly.
While I can’t see you arguing that the list is anything but common sense, I can see you wondering why an article on a bicycling website goes on at such length about it. It’s not only because I’m assuming you are like me and want to pedal a bicycle for at least as long as Tony Bennett sang on stage. It’s because I’m assuming you are like me in another way. That your love of cycling sometimes leads you to forsake common sense and ride in ways that could very well shorten your cycling life expectancy.
Addressing the Duh Factor
The first time I realized I had forsaken my cycling common sense occurred during a rereading of my log years ago. (And yes, I still keep a handwritten cycling log to this day.) I uttered, “Duh” at that time and, sad to say, uttered the same — and for the same reason — not too long ago. After a ride that started and ended with me feeling absolutely flat, I once again paged back and discovered I hadn’t taken a true recovery week since the last week in March.
Not the best thing to admit if you’ve cycled seriously for 35 years and now get paid to dispense advice about it, I know. But hey, it’s honest and a suitable example of what I’ll now warn you to guard against.
Forsaking common sense and giving into guilt or good legs every time either one eggs you on to ride that little bit longer, that little bit harder. There’s a time and a place, for sure, to ride both longer and harder. But if common sense doesn’t come along on those rides, you’re essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul and risking the sort of burnout that shortens your cycling lifespan.
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.