Sunday, July 15, 2012


I have seen postings on this study circulating for a couple of months. This study illustrates how a sedentary lifestyle can impact long term mobility. It contains a series of images comparing the lean muscle mass in the cross section of a human leg between sedentary person and a triathlete. Now on the two year anniversary of leaving the hospital for a severe illness (see previous post), I want to add my own testimonial.

The study and pictures suggest the active person was much more capable later in life of retaining mobility. I won’t pretend I was as lean as the triathlete whose X-rays were shown in this study, but suspect this effect must have helped with my survival and/or my recovery those medical issues.

As a disclaimer, a relative of mine who used to be in the organ donation business has indicated these pictures are the most extreme examples, and healthy activity does not always make up for genetic predisposition.

My illness hit me particularly hard in the lungs, sending their ability to process oxygen below the level needed for survival without special equipment. Doctors at the time suggested the endurance running that I had done over the last decade might have made my lungs a little stronger, giving me the edge to survive long enough for the treatment to take effect.

In addition to possibly helping me survive, the active lifestyle probably helped me recover faster. As a consequence of being medically immobilized and unconscious for nearly 2 weeks, I was left so weak I needed a few weeks of physical rehab to regain the strength to walk. During the rehabilitation, the therapists kept remarking how quickly I was regaining strength. At the time I thought they were simply saying the same encouraging things that they said to all their patients. But more and more I would hear workers say, not realizing I was within earshot, things like “I can’t believe he is walking so soon, you should have seen him in the ICU a couple of weeks ago”. Based on some other comments from doctors, I now believe all the running over the last decade helped me bounce back quicker than normal.

When I left the hospital, the effort to walk around the block shot my heart rate up to a level that used to match a hard run. But I kept walking and built myself up to a mile, then 3 miles, then 6 miles and eventually was able to walk in a half-marathon event 8 months after leaving the hospital. When I went in for a follow-up doctor visit, I had a conversation that went something like this:

Q: [Standard Question] How many blocks can you walk before you get out of breath?

A: 13.1 miles.

Q: Do you realize many people who have gone through what you have would still need supplemental oxygen at this stage?

That same doctor now encourages me to be as active as possible and keep moving back towards the activities I used to do. Before this medical drama, I have encountered doctors who discouraged me from running marathons since they bad for the body and encouraged me to keep to drastically shorter distances. I am glad now I went to find other doctors instead.

I have to believe that 10 years of regularly training and running marathons, trail 50k’s, and the occasional half-ironman triathlon did me more good than harm. If I had stuck to the shorter events and not been constantly joining some sort of training group for these longer events, I would not have developed the support community and circle of friends that motivated me to keep coming back for more after each event ended. And without all of that, I would not have bounced back as quickly as I did from that illness, and possibly not at all.

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