Monday, January 12, 2009

Return to Distance Cycling

Following my hip fracture a year ago December, I had a long recovery. My rehabilitation went well and I was back on an indoor trainer about three weeks after the surgery. It took me nine weeks to be able to ride again outdoors, but I still had a lot of pain and could not walk well. After two months I was still using a cane. It was really about eight months after the surgery before I felt like I was beginning to return back to normal use of the leg.

Even after eight months, however, I was reluctant to get back involved with the kind of distance training that I was doing prior to the accident. There were a couple reasons for this. One was that during my rehab period my old problems of cardiac arrhythmia seem to get much worse, I suppose this brought on by the stress of the surgery and the uncertainty of my recovery plus the death of my mother. I probably will never really know why my arrhythmia were so bad during this period (February - June). Unusual stress is probably the most likely culprit, but I have had arrhythmia my whole life. During one of my EKGs, the cardiologist diagnosed lone atrial fibrillation. I had another EKG done a few weeks later and no atrial fibrillation showed up. But I was still having irregular and rapid heartbeats frequently.

Starting in July 2006 I made a transition from my vegetarian diet to a very low-fat vegan diet. One theory is that the low-fat diet aggravated the arrhythmia. Articles found on Dr. Fuhrman's website suggested that low-fat diets could result in abnormal heartbeats. I started Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live program on June 1, 2007, six months following my hip surgery. I have written about my arrhythmia on this blog and described how they completely disappeared after about two weeks after starting on the Eat to Live program. My stress level also began to decrease during this period. I am not sure whether the Eat to Live and dietary changes, including adding more healthy fat to my diet, or the reduction in stress, or some combination of the two was responsible for my arrhythmia disappearing. 

Nevertheless, I'll take it regardless of the reason for the cure. Well, I should probably not say cure because there is always the possibility that my arrhythmia will return. Right now, however, my heart feels as good as it has ever felt in my life. Even with my arrhythmia, in the past, my exercise tolerance has been good. But since the return to steady and consistent sinus rhythm, I feel that my endurance has increased somewhat.

For the past couple weeks I've been trying to decide whether to return to my pre-accident level of bike training. I have felt so good the last few months that I have been reluctant to change any of my routine, which from an exercise standpoint, has involved a little cycling and more strength training in my gym. I figure, "if it isn't broke don't fix it". But I have been itching to return to my previous level of cycling. My reluctance to do so has been reinforced by a couple of articles I read recently that said that middle-aged endurance athletes are more susceptible to atrial fibrillation. I certainly do not want to do anything that will aggravate a return of atrial fibrillation. 

I asked Dr. Fuhrman his opinion about whether getting back into heavy endurance exercise might put me at greater risk for return of the arrhythmia. Here is what his partner, Dr. Klaper, had this to say:

I think you have adjusted very wisely to your situation, e.g. changing your exercise regimen, and most importantly, instituting the ETL diet as fully as you have.

Given your excellent changes, I think it would be safe and appropriate to gradually begin lengthening the duration of your workouts and gradually start building up to the longer distances you desire to cycle.
I'll be surprised if you have any heart problems, and if you do, just drop back to a duration and intensity you know is safe and stay there for a few weeks (or months) and then gradually start to push the limits again.
I think the risks to you are small and the benefits in your happiness and feelings of accomplishment would be great. But just to be sure, you should probably check in with your cardiologist and tell her/him what you have in mind.

Good luck - and happy cycling!

So I've decided to begin endurance cycling training again starting this week. My hope is that I can be back in shape and do some spring Centuries. I will be down in Florida until May and perhaps there will be some metric Century or other events that I can enter.

I have benefited tremendously from the strength training that I started immediately after my hip surgery. I am currently doing three or four strength workouts per week and as I gradually phase in my distance cycling training I plan on cutting back to two sessions per week in the gym and hold it at that until late next fall, the start of the cycling off-season. At that point, I will probably return to three or four strength sessions per week during the off-season.


kneecap said...

This sounds like a great plan. Let us know if you are successful. Keep eating the nuts!


Howard Veit said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I'll keep you posted. The nuts and seeds are my friend on the bike. Those plus some bananas and water keep me going strong. I think. Haven't tried this on truly long distances.