Endurance training: Surviving the Tour


1. Torture de France

2. Breathing training

3. Incredible eating machine

4. Exercise: Healthy for you and me?

We may not be able to finish a marathon like this guy, but longer life sounds good to us. We'll start first thing Monday morning...really. Photo: The City of New York

In 2000, a competitve wheelchair division was formed for athletes participating in the New York City Marathon. Photo: The New York City Sports Commission


Let's guess
Jubilant runner crossing finish line. You're not training for the Ironman, the Olympic marathon, or the Tour de France. You're are training for life. Does this biz about endurance training have any relevance to you?

No, and yes. No, you don't need to carbo-load to walk a couple of miles, or gorge on fats to ride a dozen. Yes, because more exercise is healthier than less exercise.

Heart helper
One of the primary beneficiaries of exercise is the heart. Endurance training "Makes the heart stronger," says Timothy Hacker, an assistant scientist in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School. "It's no different than lifting weights, if you lift with the biceps, the biceps get stronger."

And you may want a strong heart even if you don't plan to ascend Mont Ventoux or the short, steep hills of Dane County, Wis. An exercise-toned heart gains protection from the inevitable slings and arrows of outrageous aging, says Hacker, a former middle-distance runner who studies exercise and cardiovascular physiology. If an artery gets narrow or gets clotted, "your heart will be more able to withstand it."

A competitor in a wheelchair digs in for the long haul.Other benefits originate elsewhere. "The biggest benefit of exercise, probably, comes from what happens in the rest of the body," Hacker says. Exercise reduce stress, which may trigger heart attacks through spasms of heart arteries. It increases "good" HDL cholesterol and reduces "bad" LDL cholesterol, both of which slow the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. "Exercise can keep your arteries looking younger, by altering lipid profiles," says Hacker.

We could natter on about the benefits of exercise, but since we taxpayers have already paid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to natter thusly, let's reprint part of their list.

Reduces the risk of dying prematurely.

Reduces the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and colon cancer.

Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

Helps control weight.

Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.

Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move without falling.

Promotes psychological well-being.

Intensity - or insanity?
So you're convinced. Next year, you'll ride the Tour de France or the Furnace Creek 508 [mile] bike race, just to get in shape and cut your chance of dying.

Marathon competitors push their endurance limits. All of these people are in the know – physical activity is the key to a healthy lifestyle! Photo: The New York City Sports Commission

Actually, you can get these benefits without emulating Lance, Tyler Hamilton and others giants of the saddle. But how much exercise, exactly, is enough? Here, Hacker says, the accepted wisdom has oscillated like a pendulum that "swings from side to side and eventually settles at the center," he says.

At one time, Hacker says, the adage was "no pain, no gain."

But the reality is more comforting, he says. "If you can do something every single day, that's the ideal, even if it's only for 10 to 15 minutes. If it's only walking, that's great, if you can do more, that's better."

Some is good, but more is better
If you divide Americans into five groups according to the calories they burn each week, the most sedentary 20 percent have the greatest chance of dying, Hacker says. But the biggest increase in longevity occurs when you jump into the next-higher activity category, which leads Hacker to conclude, "Anything is better than nothing."

Much to the relief of those who would rather not "enjoy" a 250-mile bike ride on a summer Saturday, Mazzeo, a physiologist at the University of Colorado, agrees, "The average person does not have to train like a madman, like a triathete, to get the benefits in terms of aging."

You don't have to read like a madwoman to get the benefits of our bibliography.

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