Cycling Past 50 and Beyond – Cardiac Health

Cardiac / Heart

Cycling is very good for the heart and cardiovascular system. The main benefits of cycling are preventing heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and strokes. Exercise promotes long term positive physiological changes, such as encouraging the formation of new blood vessels. Blood vessels dilate more readily, and it also helps your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your heart rate and blood pressure). These changes may take months to years to reach their optimal effects.

As good as cycling is for the heart, prolonged efforts can place considerable stress on the cardio-vascular system. It is very important to have a clean cardiac bill of health before engaging in something like a century ride or race. With today’s current health care system, obtaining a clean bill of health is difficult at best. Think of it as an investment, like a good set of wheels. Find a doctor who is experienced in working with athletes. This is very important because you need someone who will order the appropriate lab tests. A proper workup for the 50-year-old athlete might include an electrocardiogram (ECG), cardiac stress test and echocardiogram to establish a baseline of how well your heart is working. An echocardiogram visualizes the heart structures. A stress test is an electrical tracing of your heart (ECG) matched to an exercise effort. It is often referred to as an exercise stress test. Any major changes during the test such as chest pain could also arise during exercise and should be addressed accordingly. Atrial fibrillation, a condition where the 2 upper chambers of the heart no longer beat properly, will greatly affect older cyclists. Often a pacemaker may solve the issue and cycling may again be possible. Interestingly, most European master’s racers require a medical clearance, an ECG and echocardiogram to compete.

Next article will focus on Cycling Beyond 50 and muscles, bones and joints