Cycling could lead to old age heart arrhythmias, but it’ll keep you walking

New research could have implications for elderly ex-athlete heart health, say British Heart Foundation

by Elliot Johnston   May 15, 2014  

The world's oldest cycling record-holder, Robert Marchand is 102 (picture credit UCI)

Cycling, and other endurance sports, could be the cause of arrhythmias in old age, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). Meanwhile, a group of researchers from Indiana University suggest that cycling into your old age will preserve your walking ability to a level equal to a moderately active 20-30 year old.

The heart study, being carried out by a group of scientists at the University of Manchester, has found evidence that extensive periods of exercise in mice changes the heart’s rhythm-setting pacemaker at a molecular level.

If the investigation’s results can be repeated in humans, the findings could have implications for the heart-health of elderly athletes, says the BHF’s associate medical director, Professor Jeremy Pearson.

Athletes are society’s healthiest, right? According to Nature Communications the incidence of arrhythmia is known to be higher in individuals with a lifelong history of training, like athletes.

Endurance athletes, cyclists included, are known to have significantly slower resting heart rates than the average individual.

Chris Hoy’s reported resting heart rate of 30 beats-per-minute and Miguel Indurain’s of 28 bpm are significantly slower than a normal adult resting heart rate of 60-100 bpm.

Traditionally, this change in resting heart rate was thought to be the result of the nervous system changing its requirements in response to intense exercise.

However, Professor Mark Boyett told BBC news that their research suggests this is not the case.

The team found that extensive exercise reduced the production of a pacemaker protein, and it was the scarcity of this protein that was responsible for low resting heart rate in mice.

Professor Boyett said: "This is important because although normally a low resting heart rate of an athlete does not cause problems, elderly athletes with a lifelong training history are more likely to need an artificial electronic pacemaker fitted."

But he added: "Although endurance exercise training can have harmful effects on the heart, it is more than outweighed by the beneficial effects."

These beneficial effects are being explored by a team of scientists from the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University, in America.

Their research titled Skeletal muscle mass, bone mineral density and walking performance in masters cyclists, compared the aforementioned traits in a group of older cyclists and with a group of moderately active young men.

The group of cyclists between the ages of 53 and 71 trained 4-5 times per week and had done for an average of 17 years. The group of young men, aged between 20 and 30, exercised under twice a week.

The results showed that despite the age difference, there were no differences in muscle mass or spinal bone density between the two groups.

While bone density in the femoral neck bone of the cyclists’ hips was found to be lower than that of their younger counterparts, the study noted that thigh muscle loss as a result of ageing was not observed.

These findings lead to the speculation that cycling into your later life could preserve movement and walking performance to the levels of a twenty-something.

31 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Chris Hoy isn't an endurance cyclist, is he?

posted by Paul J [743 posts]
15th May 2014 - 8:27

13 Likes

We're all gonna die, get used to it.

posted by Beaufort [188 posts]
15th May 2014 - 8:50

5 Likes

I suffered a series of cardiac arrests as a result of endurance exercise and was lucky enough to be revived each time, i now have a defibrillator fitted in my chest and am on constant medication to regulate my heart rhythm. This happened when i was 50 so i like to think that it is not just something that happens in old age. Keep your eyes on the news (or google "footballer collapses and dies on pitch" or "marathon runner dies") and see how many seemingly fit people this happens to.

posted by Welsh boy [233 posts]
15th May 2014 - 8:57

11 Likes

Quote:
Keep your eyes on the news (or google "footballer collapses and dies on pitch" or "marathon runner dies") and see how many seemingly fit people this happens to.

Beryl Burton famously died of heart failure!

posted by sfichele [126 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:08

14 Likes

A completely nonsense bit of research. Note the sentence ;

"If the investigation’s results can be repeated in humans, the findings could have implications for the heart-health of elderly athletes,"

Two excellent words used, "If" and "could"

posted by seanbolton [164 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:10

17 Likes

Paul J wrote:
Chris Hoy isn't an endurance cyclist, is he?

Nah - but studies like this don't discriminate to that level

"Endurance athletes, cyclists included..."

As far as these guys are concerned, all cyclists are engaged in an endurance sport

To be fair to Sir Chris, I'm sure the level of training he undertakes would mean the general conclusions are applicable to him as well.

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [577 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:11

18 Likes

Seriously, I'd take anything The British Heart Foundation say with a huge pinch of salt. Those idiots are still recommending meat and dairy as part of a "balanced" and "healthy" diet to prevent heart disease.

posted by LinusLarrabee [113 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:13

8 Likes

Does anybody have any reliable statistics for the percentage of deaths that involve the heart stopping beating?

posted by farrell [1715 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:22

12 Likes

LinusLarrabee wrote:
Seriously, I'd take anything The British Heart Foundation say with a huge pinch of salt.

Although, that's not so easy to do when you have been put on a low sodium diet.

posted by farrell [1715 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:24

7 Likes

LinusLarrabee wrote:
Seriously, I'd take anything The British Heart Foundation say with a huge pinch of salt. Those idiots are still recommending meat and dairy as part of a "balanced" and "healthy" diet to prevent heart disease.

Well that salt is gonna raise your blood pressure...

posted by ronin [219 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:48

1 Like

arrhythmias - am I just supposed to know what that is?

I don't worry about such things, the the only thing that can kill me is death Big Grin

posted by ronin [219 posts]
15th May 2014 - 9:53

2 Likes

Oh I'm now so worried that I think I will just go back to bed, pull the blankets up over my head and pretend nothing bad will ever happen. Silly

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [649 posts]
15th May 2014 - 10:02

9 Likes

So, some marathon-running lab mice suffer ill effects and from this we get a headline that being a very fit old cyclist might cause heart problems.

FFS! Laughing

posted by Ross K [15 posts]
15th May 2014 - 10:10

7 Likes

With exercise you have 100% certainty of death.

Without exercise you have 100% certainty of death.

May as well ride a bike and have some fun before the inevitable happens.

posted by Velo_Alex [70 posts]
15th May 2014 - 10:35

14 Likes

Another nationally publicised piece of research that confuses the public. Woot.

Fact is, hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of pounds can be saved by our population improving their lifestyles through exercise. This also has knock on effects on drinking, smoking, depression and having lovely tight buns.

Sadly, there are always exceptions to the rule. But I'm a big fan of The Greater Good. This survey may frighten off those who really need to exercise. If (made up figure) 99% live longer and 1% don't, its a great shame for the 1%, but I'm all for it.

www.vulpine.cc
@aslongasicycle
@vulpinecc
@HOYvulpine

aslongasicycle's picture

posted by aslongasicycle [359 posts]
15th May 2014 - 11:25

18 Likes

Quite a defensive lot, aren't we? Let the scientists do their thing, don't fret about the tabloid's misreporting.

My takeaway conclusion is that we're in a jam as a country if cycling 5 or 10 miles a day just getting about the place makes us crazy athlete outliers! Just how inactive are these "moderately active 20-30 year olds"?Party

posted by vbvb [373 posts]
15th May 2014 - 11:38

14 Likes

We're living in such a risk averse society we're actually killing ourselves through lack of any risk.

www.vulpine.cc
@aslongasicycle
@vulpinecc
@HOYvulpine

aslongasicycle's picture

posted by aslongasicycle [359 posts]
15th May 2014 - 11:44

12 Likes

I had a precautionary ECG. The doctor said "Don't worry, more people die from lack of exercise than an excess of it."

posted by mbrads72 [151 posts]
15th May 2014 - 12:07

4 Likes

farrell wrote:
Does anybody have any reliable statistics for the percentage of deaths that involve the heart stopping beating?

Yes, 100%!

posted by Jimbonic [121 posts]
15th May 2014 - 14:58

12 Likes

Jimbonic wrote:
farrell wrote:
Does anybody have any reliable statistics for the percentage of deaths that involve the heart stopping beating?

Yes, 100%!

Agreed - but that is not necessarily the root cause - it would be interesting to know what the risk of death from arryhthmia is and how much higher this was in the study. You're still more likely to die by being hit by a bus!

posted by allezrider [89 posts]
15th May 2014 - 15:18

13 Likes

Why is there two R's in Arrhythmia? Surely one is enough; its A-rhythm-ia, not Ar-Rhythm-ia; unless you are a cider farmer.


I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1604 posts]
16th May 2014 - 0:30

4 Likes

mbrads72 wrote:
I had a precautionary ECG. The doctor said "Don't worry, more people die from lack of exercise than an excess of it."

[[[[[ Huh! I'm not "more people"---I'm just me! But seriously, were these mice running? Or riding good roadent bikes....supplied by RATEIGH?
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [319 posts]
16th May 2014 - 0:40

7 Likes

Jimbonic wrote:
farrell wrote:
Does anybody have any reliable statistics for the percentage of deaths that involve the heart stopping beating?

Yes, 100%!

Finally!

posted by farrell [1715 posts]
16th May 2014 - 12:37

1 Like

farrell wrote:
Jimbonic wrote:
farrell wrote:
Does anybody have any reliable statistics for the percentage of deaths that involve the heart stopping beating?

Yes, 100%!

Finally!

No problem. Glad to be of service! Big Grin

posted by Jimbonic [121 posts]
16th May 2014 - 12:50

3 Likes

LinusLarrabee wrote:
Seriously, I'd take anything The British Heart Foundation say with a huge pinch of salt. Those idiots are still recommending meat and dairy as part of a "balanced" and "healthy" diet to prevent heart disease.

This isn't crazy. If you read around you will find little real evidence that meat and dairy are bad. My summary/take on a whole bunch of stuff:

Processed meat (salted, preserved, salami, sausages, pies etc) Bad

Trans-fats in biscuits, pastry and added to a whole bunch of processed food - Super-Bad. There is no scientific disagreement about this.

Meat, Milk, Eggs (steak, chicken etc, not burnt on a BBQ) Totally OK as part of a balanced diet, some would argue beneficial. The alternative of stuffing yourself with more starchy carb is probably worse.

In a nutshell, eat real food, avoid takeaways and processed food, and you won't go far wrong

posted by 3cylinder [84 posts]
16th May 2014 - 16:52

2 Likes

Meat and dairy are not bad for you and the medical establishment is slowly drip feeding this info to us. It is impossible for the "experts" and the government to admit suddenly that all their previous utterances were not true. Oh, and avoid soya products.
Everything in moderation (except soya) and eat natural food as much as possible.

posted by peterben [59 posts]
16th May 2014 - 17:21

6 Likes

I have been doing a my own research into diet and exercise over the past few months and have come to the conclusion that over eating and constantly eating rhubarb and custard sweets or if they aren't available werther's original toffees in-between meals is counter productive to cycling performance and general health.

I have notice a definite drop in my performance and often find that I have to take naps in the afternoon due to intense sugar rushes.

Obviously these naps have cut into my available time to go out on the bike. That said this will stop the likelyhood of getting arrhythmias in the future.

At 47 year old, I still feel I have plenty of time to find the right training programme and diet schedule to beat Robert Marchand world record.
55 years build up to the record I think I will be flying by then.
Watch this space see you in 2069. Party

Rupert's picture

posted by Rupert [145 posts]
17th May 2014 - 17:05

2 Likes

For some this type of research does have value. I'm 63 and at 42 was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM, usually inherited heart muscle disease). I often experience arrhythmias. I rode last year's London-Surrey 100 in support of the Cardiomyopathy Association and had to get clearance from my cardiologist before doing so. At the moment most cardiologists will advise patients like me to carry on taking exercise like this provided we tolerate it with no obvious ill effects and don't take risks by trying to sprint like Cav. If the Indiana team have found something that checks out, then that will probably change the advice and extend a lot of lives.

There is no widespread screening for HCM in this country, unlike the US where young athletes are increasingly being screened. You'll often see newspaper reports of apparently healthy young people dying suddenly during or just after exercise - inherited heart muscle disease is a likely cause. The research is far from being "anti-cycling" and it's obviously important to fully understand the effects of systematic exercise on heart physiology.

I tend to agree with those who say this research can largely be ignored by most people, but it does have serious relevance to thousands of people with a particular type of problem.

posted by BrianL51 [8 posts]
21st May 2014 - 22:22

2 Likes

This is an old post but here is an update and my experience of cycling into old age. Aged 77 my doctor advised taking it easy when doing time trials? The doctor doesn't cycle. This year, two ten mile time trials, March and April. Average heart rate for the first, 182 bpm, average heart rate for second time trial 177 bpm, wow I'm getting fitter. I ride with a fellow club member who happens to be 84 and weather permitting we do a once a week 'cream tea' ride, a leisurely ride that we amusingly refer to as our 'cream tea training ride', a 38 mile round trip. My time trial times indicate a low fitness level but I do manage to beat my standard time for the ten miles by not a lot, unlike some of our super vets. My heart rates are freakish to say the least but they are consistent, always have been, with a resting HR of 50-52, and a max seen this year of 192. I enjoy my cycling, be it my preferred leisurely rides or the infrequent 'training' rides. So, plus one for the posters who agree that we will expire at some point, just live it while you can.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [1075 posts]
13th April 2015 - 9:45

2 Likes

Great stuff! It's always amusing when medics just don't "get" fitness in old age. Sometimes it's also frustrating, such as when they don't think there's a problem because your abilities are far above their expectations (even though they may be well below yours).

You see stats like "you lose 10% of your muscle mass for every decade after such-and-such an age". They may be true for the majority of old codgers who live on their backsides when age creeps up on them, but they don't hold so well for those that continue training.

posted by BrianL51 [8 posts]
13th April 2015 - 12:23

0 Likes