You’re Fit, But Are You Healthy?

Why Regular Health Checkups Are So Important

Just because you’re an endurance athlete, doesn’t mean you’re healthy. You may ride fast, eat well, and look super fit and healthy to all around you, but regular health checkups are so important to make sure.

Get your health checkup

Perhaps it’s because we don’t like thinking about our mortality, or maybe it’s because we continually push what’s possible for us on our bikes week in and week out. But we as a community tend to do a poor job of preventative maintenance.

This may seem like I’m painting with awfully broad strokes, but the longer I’ve been in the endurance athletic community, the more surprised I am to find that many skip out, or do not even think about routine medical checks.

Sonny Colbrelli – From Roubaix winner to an uncertain future

The Unseen & Unfelt

Over the last few years there have been more and more incidents of major medical emergencies occurring to athletes in both triathlon and cycling. Sonny Cobrelli’s sudden collapse after the finish line this spring is a prime example. The reality that a high level of fitness does not pardon you from baseline health tests.

Stroke, cardiac events, and embolisms, while often thought to be determined significantly through heredity, are also impacted significantly by lifestyle factors, daily habits, and diet. While each of these, as well as other general health issues, often come with warning signs (but not always), having baseline tests on a fairly regular schedule can greatly tilt the odds in your favor to spot things early.

A slight upwards trend in your blood pressure over 6 months may not be something you catch or worry about. But over the course of 2-3 years, it’s a completely different story!

Barriers to general health tracking

The great thing these days is the ease at which most of us have access to these tests, as they are mostly available throughout the modernized world. Yes, healthcare costs and the plan which you are enrolled in may have a big effect on how costly these things are. However, most basic tests tend not to run unreasonably high.

To help with the costs of these tests, many HSA’s (Healthcase savings account) offer tax-advantaged savings plans that you can take advantage of, to help ease the burden, for those in the USA. Talk to your financial advisor or HR to determine what is possible for you, or to see what your options are if you live outside the USA.

While cost is one barrier, access is another, based on geographical region. However, a growing number of public health departments as well as privately run companies, offer general health tests either in the comfort of your own home, or at public locations.

What to track

As endurance athletes we place unusual demands on our bodies, beyond what the average Joe or Jill do, which means we will want to add a few items beyond the usual.

A great place to start is with the following:

  • Basic blood panel
  • Iron and vitamin B
  • Fasting glucose
  • EKG (resting)
  • Basic vision test
  • PSA (men)
  • Mammogram (women)

Beyond these you will want to make sure to establish baseline measurements for any known hereditary conditions, or anything which you have a predisposition for.

An important note

There is a tendency for us, as human beings, to fall into a confirmation bias, based off of information or looks … such as being able to participate in endurance events of longer duration, or having the outward appearance of being healthy, or because we eat a truly healthy, well rounded diet.

But this can lead us into a trap. Some healthcare practitioners call into this human characteristic, and will disregard your request for a baseline or basic test without signs or symptoms of a problem. However, YOU are responsible for your own health, and as such must be your own best advocate!

Performing many of these tests every 2-3 years or so, as a healthy individual, gives you a great way to establish your healthy baseline, which can prove invaluable in the future.

Lastly, be sure to print out and keep a physical copy in a safe location, as it’s always best to be sure you have easy access to the information, should you need it.

Stay healthy, ride strong, and keep it rubber side down!

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