Studies conducted by Purdue University have shown that cyclists are more likely to survive STEMI Heart Attacks than non-cyclists. Cycling strengthens existing veins and utilizes additional feeder veins; increasing the resilience of your heart. If you have a Widowmaker heart attack and you’re an active cyclist the overall fitness of your heart and circulatory system can give you better odds of surviving it and decrease your recovery time.
Additionally the Purdue study showed that regular cycling has the potential to reduce one’s risk of heart disease by an astounding 50 percent if you cycle just 20 miles a week compared to those who don’t exercise at all. This is significant because a study published in Circulation estimates there are about 250,000 heart disease-related deaths felt to be preventable with adequate exercise.
According to Cycling and Health’s Nick Cavill and Dr. Adrian Davis, cycling utilizes the larger skeletal muscles in a rhythmic pattern with varied periods of rest and active work. The rest periods allow recovery from the high-intensity active periods. In combination with the distribution of body weight, varied breathing and high maximum oxygen uptake; cycling has proven to be an effective exercise for aerobic and physical fitness.
My own experience with CAD is a perfect example – although cycling didn’t prevent me from developing CAD for it was in the cards for me genetically, it did help me “break my family curse” by conditioning my heart and my circulatory system to handle the immense stress that CAD places on your cardiovascular system. I survived and experienced a 100% recovery which is extremely rare because of the conditioning I developed from years of regular cycling.
There is no mistaking that my cardiovascular conditioning was caused by regularly pushing my heart into uncomfortable territory. An AHA White Paper authored by Stéphanie Lehoux and Bernard I. Lévy entitled “Collateral Artery Growth – Making the Most of What You Have” (AHA Journal Circulation Research. 2006;99:567-569 – Originally published September 14, 2006) – states that development of collateral arteries requires 2 adaptation processes that exist in parallel: short term release of vasoactive agonists or changes in vascular tone provide a quick functional adaptation to accommodate rapid changes in metabolic demand, whereas growth or regression of blood vessels (termed vascular remodeling) represent long term structural adaptation to new, lasting metabolic and blood flow conditions.
Simply put your body will react to an increase in blood demand by expanding the capacity of your body’s blood flow to meet short term needs. If the the demand is constant over time your body will react by growing new vascular pathways to meet these lasting demands.
The implication in my specific case is that over years of constantly stressing my heart through daily intense cycling my body reacted by adding additional vascular pathways – NEW pathways – to feed blood to my heart. This growth wasn’t restricted to just my heart. Any muscle group affected by my exercise saw new vascular growth.
The net effect is that when my LAD developed a blood clot due to stenosis and I experienced a Widowmaker STEMI heart attack – the new/additional vascular structures that had developed through years of cycling kept enough blood flowing to my heart that I didn’t experience any tissue death (as is typically the case for STEMI survivors).
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
First – it is never too late to start exercising and improve your health – even if you have CAD – you can greatly improve you health and reduce your chances for a life-threatening heart attack by exercising moderately for 20 minutes a day. *** NEVER start an exercise regimen without the approval and/or supervision of your physician or a qualified health care consultant! Always follow your doctor’s orders. If you have been diagnosed with CAD baring any inciting incident such as a heart attack – you need to follow your physician’s instructions to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.
I realize that my cycling habit isn’t the norm. I’m extreme. You never need to worry about what other people are doing or how much or this or that. It doesn’t matter. Making wise choices for your health and quality of life isn’t a contest. It’s not a competition.
Start small. Start slow. Ease into more intense exercise over time. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – an the path to good health through daily exercise takes time. So be patient and have realistic expectations.
Lastly be honest with yourself about why you are doing this. Many people have a hard time committing to daily exercise on the premise that they are working to prevent a disease they may or may not ever develop. The truth is that most people want to exercise to look and feel better. And there is nothing wrong with this as a goal. My suggestion is that if you focus your efforts on the health related benefits of exercise and not the physical appearance aspects you’ll be much more likely to be satisfied with the results of your hard work.