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Extreme Exercise Associated with Longer Life

Researchers have shown that French Tour de France cyclists live six years longer than other Frenchmen (European Heart Journal, published online Sep 3, 2013 and presented the same day at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology). These bicycle racers live longer, even though they are far more prone to accidents than the average Frenchman, and many have had a high degree of exposure to dangerous drugs.

The study included 786 French cyclists who competed in the Tour de France from 1947 to 2012. In that time, 208 of the cyclists have died. The bicycle racers had a 41 percent lower death rate than the general population. The bicycle racers also suffered far fewer cancers, heart attacks or lung diseases. For more on the benefits of endurance exercise, see these issues:

May 20, 2012

March 11, 2012

September 19, 2010

Reports from

Cholesterol guidelines

Why excess weight can kill you

Good bacteria to prevent disease

Mild Dehydration Slows You Down in Hot Weather

Drink fluids when you exercise intensely for more than an hour, particularly in hot weather. A study from the University of Arkansas shows that a mild one percent dehydration (loss of about 1.5 pints of fluid):

• slows down competitive bicycle racers by a mile per hour, over a three-mile time trial course (5 kilometers),

• reduces power to drive the pedals by ten watts,

• raises stomach temperature, and

• lowers sweat sensitivity that controls body temperature.

The riders reported that they could not tell that they rode more slowly when they were mildly dehydrated. Their heart rates were the same during one percent dehydration and normal hydration. (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, September, 2013;45 (9):1782-89).

You Can't Depend on Thirst to Tell You that You are Dehydrated

If you wait until you feel thirsty, you will not know that you are dehydrated until it is too late to catch up on your fluid loss during competition. The sensation of thirst comes from certain cells in your brain called osmo-receptors. Osmo-receptors do not tell you that you are thirsty until blood salt levels rise very high. Most of your fluid loss during exercise is through sweating. Sweat contains far less salt than blood does, so during exercise you sweat and lose far more water than salt, so your blood level of salt rises constantly. You do not feel thirsty until you have lost between two and four pounds of fluid, or two to four pints ("a pint is a pound the world around"). By then, you have already lost the race and won't be able to catch up to competitors who are not dehydrated.

Can You Take in Too Much Fluid?

Occasionally you will hear about a marathon runner or bicycle racer dying from hyponatremia, low blood salt levels caused by taking in too much fluid and virtually no salt. If an exerciser takes in too much fluid and no salt, the extra fluid gets into their blood which dilutes the salt concentration in their blood. Since fluid moves from an area of low salt into an area of higher salt, the fluid moves from the lower-salt bloodstream into the higher-salt brain. The brain swells but it is locked in a non-expandable skull, so the brain is crushed and can cause death.

This is a catastrophe that usually occurs in poorly-conditioned people who move so slowly in their races that they spend more time drinking than they do running or biking. Virtually never does it affect well-conditioned athletes competing at high intensity because they will become severely short of breath if they spend too much time drinking and swallowing. More on hyponatremia

How Much Should You Drink?

I recommend starting to take fluid within the first hour of a race or hard exercise session, sooner in very hot weather. On a hot day, racers should try to take in at least one water bottle (2 and a half cups) per hour. A person exercising near his capacity, breathing hard and not slowed down by fatigue probably does not have to worry about limiting fluid intake. He is working so hard at maintaining intensity, he doesn't have enough time to drink too much. On the other hand, people slowed down by fatigue or those out of shape, should limit fluid intake, probably to less than two large water bottles per hour. If you are exercising for more than an hour, you should also replace salt (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, July/August 2005). We eat salted potato chips when we ride intensely for more than three hours.

Sex Before Athletic Competition OK

Muhammad Ali would not make love for six weeks before a fight and some football players won't make love on the night before a game. Coach Glenn Hoddle told his players to avoid sexual relations during the month-long 1998 soccer World Cup, However, an article in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness (Sep 1995;35(3):214-217) showed that sexual relations on the night before competition have no effect on endurance to exhaustion on a treadmill, strength, the ability of the body to transport oxygen to muscles, or the amount of blood pumped by the heart.

Lovemaking is not a very demanding exercise. The most aggressive people burn about 250 calories an hour or 4 calories per minute while making love, and the average person makes love for about five minutes and burns about 25 calories. That's less energy than it takes to walk up two flights of stairs. If you think that you shouldn't make love on the night before a game, you shouldn't participate in pre-game warmups; they are much more demanding than sex.

Not Making Love Can Hamper Athletic Performance

On the day before competition, most athletes usually reduce their workouts and have extra energy. If they don't make love, they spend the night tossing and turning and wake up exhausted. Casey Stengel, the former manager of the New York Yankees, said "it's not sex that wrecks these guys, it's staying up all night looking for it."

The Buffalo Bills football players were rumored to have been separated from their wives before four straight Super Bowl games (1991-1994). You know their record: zero and four. The Minnesota Vikings also lost four Super Bowl Games (1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977). The directors of the 2012 Olympics in London knew better. They handed out 150,000 condoms to the 10,500 competing athletes.

The Scientific Data

Making love has been shown in scientific studies to have no effect on power or endurance (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, October 2000;10(4):233-315). Sexual relations do not weaken muscles (J Sex Res 1968; 4:247-248), and do not decrease endurance by reducing maximal aerobic power or oxygen uptake (J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1995;35:214-217).

However, it is possible that the emotional effects of making love may calm the athlete so much that he could lose some of the aggressiveness necessary for successful athletic competition. Nobody has measured the psychological effects that making love could have on athletic performance. We do know that making love can raise blood testosterone levels, and testosterone increases aggression to make an athlete more competitive.

Should You Make Love Before Competition?

It depends on what you believe. If you think that love making will harm an important golf game or tennis match, don't do it. On the other hand, if you believe that lovemaking has no effect on athletic performance, go for it. At least your partner won't be disappointed with you.

This week's medical history:
Dwight Eisenhower: The History of Bed Rest

For a complete list of my medical history biographies go to Histories and Mysteries

Recipe of the Week:

Fruity-Nutty Salad

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

September 8th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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