Cycling Wed Healthy Living

CW: Living on the far right of the (heart-health) curve

Readers of Cycling Wednesdays know that I am often tough on the endurance athlete crowd. Our over-indulged, egocentric lifestyles, and less-than-tranquil temperaments make great fodder for posts on inflammation.

Sorry about that.

But not this Wednesday, though.

Today, I am putting your healthy ways up on a pedestal. I would like to invite you into my office for some show-and-tell.

What’s making me feel so buoyant today?

Perhaps it’s that my cannabinoid receptors were activated by a beautiful Wednesday ride under an unseasonably warm winter sun.

But the other thing that moves me to remark on your healthiness is how it contrasts to your human peers–ie, regular people. In heart health you are way ahead of the average Joe, who frequently carries too much weight, moves too little and sleeps with a pressurized plastic face mask. This is not big news.

But what nearly blew me off my carbon-fibre bike were the epically horrible results of this recent study on nearly 2000 middle-aged regular people.

Buckle up.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh set out to study novel strategies for reducing heart disease. Their study is still ongoing, but their preliminary report (published in Circulation and nicely summarized on is shocking: Of these 1993 regular people, who were motivated enough to volunteer for a study, only one fulfilled the AHA’s “simple 7” steps to heart health. (That’s not another of my typos; only one single soul met the AHA guidelines. A Harvard journalism grad in sea of bloggers.)  What’s more, less than 10% of the 1993 study volunteers met just 5 of the 7 components.

You might think that these seven components of heart health set the bar too high. You would be wrong.

Here’s where you cyclists (and endurance athletes) get to step up for the show-and-tell.

You live the simple-7:

  • Not currently smoking. Check.

    Organic veggies and goat cheese. Yeah, right
  • Body-mass Index (BMI) less than 25:  Check. I’m about 22, and I’m heavy for a bike racer.
  • Regular physical activity: Check. By definition.
  • Eating a healthy diet, including 3 or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables.: Check.
  • Total cholesterol less than 200. For most of us, check.
  • BP less than 120/80: Check. Again, excluding BP readings while waiting too long for a coffee, most cyclists have normal blood pressure.
  • Fasting blood sugar less than 100: Check. Most cyclists handle sugar quite well.

To those of you whose avocations include daily exercise, attention to healthy eating, and maintaing the lowest possible weight, I say congratulations. When graphed on the “normal” curve you sit to the right of 99.9% of your middle-aged peers.

This news should infuse you with happiness, optimism and pride—all of which is heart-healthy!


7 replies on “CW: Living on the far right of the (heart-health) curve”

99.9%? Check. On the other hand, that was true on the day I had a total blockage of the LAD –30 minutes after finishing four hours of hard training in the hills of Jefferson Memorial forest and a week after training in Tucson and climbing Mt. Lemmon to 8,100 feet. My stats were total cholesterol of 130 (and never more than 178 in the last 25 years) and tryglicerides of 57. HDL 56/LDL 46. BP 110/60. BMI about 20. Never smoked of course. About 15 hours a week on the bike and competitive in masters races. The same was true the second time, about a year later. Moral of story: stuff happens.

6 out of 7 here, too. My total cholesterol is over 250 but I think (I hope) that is mitigated by an HDL up in the 90s. My Primary Care Manager was happy with it and didn’t prescribe statins, at least. Hooray for us avid cyclists.

Is the desired blood pressure goal age adjusted at any point? I’m 58 and still under 120/80, but my BP graph of the last 5 years shows an upward trend. Is an increase in BP inevitable? I’m about 6.5 for 7. Still working on getting all those fruits and veggies. They’re sort of a nuisance!

Good BP is good BP at any age. Lower than 120/80 is very favorable.

The fruits and veggies are tough. Too bad cliff bars don’t count.

Hello Dr. John,
Six outta seven for me, too – right up to the day of my MI caused by a fully occluded LAD, too. And I was a distance runner for 19 years leading up to that day. Trouble is, we seem to be discovering cardiac culprits that live outside that standard “simple seven” list almost every day.

For example, while my cardiologists were very interested in finding out if I’d ever smoked or had diabetes or a family history of heart disease, not one to this day has asked if I’d ever experienced pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia (which I did, in fact, while pregnant with my first baby).

We know now that pregnancy complications (pre-eclampsia, pre-term delivery, history of miscarriage, abruption, etc.) are significantly linked with women’s later cardiac events. Dr. Graeme Smith out of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario is doing some ground-breaking research on pre-eclampsia – his studies last year suggest a 2-3 fold increase in heart attack risk for women like me compared to women who have never had pre-eclampsia.

In fact, the new AHA guidelines released last month now suggest for the first time ever that women who have experienced pregnancy complications should have those factors taken into account when their cardiac risks are evaluated later in their lives. More on this at “Pregnancy Complications Strongly Linked to Heart Disease” at:

CT, (It’s funny writing “CT,” as there is a famous local cycling legend here with the same initials.)

You are right about pre-eclampsia being under the radar. Thanks for bringing it up, and your post is an excellent summary. I learned from it. I am keeping my eyes open for more information. Thanks.

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