by Bob Howells
Middle-age fitness undoubtedly enhances our daily quality of life, but there are other less-heralded yet excellent reasons for older athletes to become or remain active. Surviving a shark attack or heart attack, to name two. Read on…
1. Survive Shark Attacks
The shark didn’t know who it was messing with.
When Maria Korcsmaros, 52, was wheeled into the emergency room after a Newport Beach shark attack over this past Memorial Day Weekend, she had tooth marks and lacerations from shoulder to pelvis, plus an open chest wound and rib fractures. She had lost a pint of blood. After three hours of surgery, the doctors said that Korcsmarcos survived because she was fit. Read the Los Angeles Times account here.
If Korcsmaros hadn’t been in good shape, she arguably would have never reached the ER. But the personal trainer and triathlete was able to tread water after the attack until she was rescued. Despite the shredded skin and trauma.
“[Her] wounds would have bled a lot, and she was able to tread water and hold her own until help arrived,” an attending E.R. doctor told the Times. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
Not that we want to go around taunting great whites. But if one decides we look tasty, apparently we have a better chance of surviving by entering the fray with a triathlete’s level of fitness.
2. Cope With Heat
Ever notice that your more sedentary friends wilt in the heat quicker than you do? We’re not just talking during exercise; we’re talking about while mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or rocking in the porch swing.
Those workouts of yours have made you more than strong. You’re a trained sweating machine.
Perspiration is one of the body’s most effective cooling mechanisms. Your body dilates blood vessels near the skin to transfer core heat to the skin, and the heated surface dissipates heat and aids in the evaporation of sweat. The entire process renders you cooler. Unfortunately, the process becomes less and less efficient as we age.
However, as longtime elite cycling coach Chris Carmichael points out in this excellent Web post, fitness at any age facilitates the functioning of our natural cooling mechanisms. Heat transfer to the skin happens quicker. Sweat volume amps up.
Acclimation is a big help in the heat, too. But fitness has a way of mimicking acclimation. “Training induces a lot of the characteristics that you typically see in somebody that is actually heat-acclimated,” says Heather Wright, a research officer in the Flight Research Lab at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa.
Don’t get cocky. You still need to hydrate, dress appropriately, maintain your electrolyte levels, and so on. But being fit gives you a real edge when the temperature soars.
3. Deal With Pain
Anyone who exercises regularly knows about endorphins, that exercise-induced release of feel-good chemicals in the body that temporarily alleviates minor (and sometimes major) discomforts. But this New York Times piece by our friend Gretchen Reynolds cites a study that suggests there may be something more significant going on.
The cited study showed that a group of exercisers was far more tolerant of pain than a control group of non-exercisers. The induced pain was unrelated to exercise, by the way. And the more that the test subjects exercised, the more they could live with the pain. Reynolds implies that the relatively modest study (two-dozen subjects) can’t be called definitive. But scientists think that such results pose hope for people with chronic pain—something that dogs plenty of us in middle age.
4. Survive a First Heart Attack
Heart attack? You’re thinking, I exercise to prevent a heart attack!
Bravo. But whether you’re an exerciser or a sloth, it could happen, and if it does, your chances of surviving afterward are greatly enhanced if you’re of the non-sloth persuasion.
This Johns Hopkins survey, based on the medical records of 2,000 men and women (average age: 62), showed that exercisers were 40 percent less likely to die after a first heart attack than other, less fit subjects. Sadly, one-third of those with lower fitness scores died within a year of their first heart attack. Fitness, in this survey anyway, was defined by the intensity with which the surveyed subjects could exercise.
Considering that about 550,000 Americans a year experience a first heart attack, the numbers suggest that it’s time to get up off the couch.
Study author Dr. Michael Blaha said that this research also bolsters the evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of a heart attack, as well as death from all causes.
5. Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
Zombies are ubiquitous these days, and their taste for human flesh suggests another very strong reason to get in shape. Just because we skew above the average age in the human population is no reason to think we oldsters are automatic zombie fodder. Not if we’re smart. According to the folks at nerdfitness.com, that means first and foremost being hard to catch. Favor the fast-twitch approach. In other words, work some sprints into your regimen, because those first 40 yards are so may make all the difference. It’s unlikely you and the zombies will be toeing the line for a 10k.