Fitness fans: Don’t spin your way into dehydration or muscle damage

spinning-300x200Although many sports enthusiasts relish the summer as a peak time to train hard to get especially fit, wise athletes for safety’s sake may wish to build their way up to exhausting workouts, and to ensure they’re staying hydrated in healthful ways, while also recognizing that endurance competitions may alter their bodies in ways that they should at least be aware of.

The New York Times has posted an eyebrow-raising story on the perils to hard-driving jocks, male and female, of “rhabdo,” aka rhabdomyolysis, a “rare but life-threatening condition often caused by extreme exercise. It occurs when overworked muscles begin to die and leak their contents into the bloodstream, straining the kidneys and causing severe pain.”

Two doctors say they treated three recent, severe rhabdo cases brought on when novices in not great shape leaped into intense spinning classes, demanding exercise regimens lasting around an hour and involving specialized stationery bicycles. They found in medical literature 46 other, documented rhabdo cases, with 42 tied to novices’ spinning.

Writing in the American Journal of Medicine, the medical researchers cautioned that, with vigorous exercise regimens like spinning, “safety guidelines [must be] set up.” They added:

Beginners need to know how to gradually increase the time and cadence on the indoor cycle. They need to be made aware of the importance of staying hydrated and the need to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Participants need to be informed of the risks of rhabdomyolysis. Guidelines should include information about the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and the urgency of seeking hospital treatment when such manifestations occur.

The three patients the researchers studied suffered kidney injury and required hospital care.

To be sure, spinning classes often occur in small, packed gyms or studios where the exercise may worsen athletes’ stress because the facilities grow steamy and noisy during workouts. But outdoor riders who find themselves hitting a trail hard on a summer’s day also may experience similar or more intense exposure to heat, humidity, and exertion far beyond their usual, more sedentary norms.

It is vital for us all during these hot times to stay hydrated—and to not fall for hype about the supposed benefits of “specially formulated” sports drinks or to think we’re being especially virtuous by exercising and guzzling down sugar-free or diet soft drinks or sugary fruit drinks.

The Washington Post points out in a separate story that the evidence continues to grow that diet drinks may result in Americans getting fatter not thinner. At least one new study finds that, “people who drank [diet sodas] routinely had an increased body mass index and risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”

Medical scientists know that diet drinks pack fewer calories but they’re now studying at the molecular level how the body takes in artificial sweeteners. It may be that diet drinks don’t trip a natural switch that tells us we’ve had our appropriate fill of an artificially sweetened liquid, so we consume many more of these drinks than we would of their natural counterparts. (The New York Times points out in yet another story that there’s a complex relationship under study now between sugars, carbohydrates, and our cravings for both.) Or maybe the bacteria in the human gut process diet drinks differently?

Moderation appears to be the key to getting the thirst-quenching, calorie-controlling benefits of diet drinks, experts say. Go ahead, take in a few diet sodas every now and then, a limited amount of sugary fruit juices on occasion, and a few sports drinks. But plain water is best. Iced tea, without heaps of sugar or flavorings, is good too.

If you’re targeting endurance exercises as the major part of your fitness goal, you should at least be aware, the New York Times reports, that a small but increasing number of studies show that long-distance running, for example, has an association with calcified build-ups in the heart and coronary arteries. New research indicates that runners’ plaques may be less detrimental than similar blockages that occur in overweight, unfit patients’ coronary systems.

They appear to develop in athletes with a substantial commitment to endurance sports, running or cycling, for example, for at least four hours or more per week for a lifetime.

Experts aren’t sure why runners develop plaques and how harmful these may be, though it long has been recognized that endurance sports may have major health harms—one of the earliest marathoners was a messenger who keeled over and died after informing his fellow Athenians of a Persian invasion.

We enjoy athletics for their fun—not to get hurt and then to require costly, inconvenient, and even painful medical care. Do all things with common sense and in moderation, eating and exercise, included. We all benefit to greater and lesser degrees by staying active and moving around, though a blue-chip U.S. preventive health advisory panel has conceded that medical professionals may experience challenges in convincing patients to exercise, drink, and diet in moderation. Don’t know if you’ve looked at the calendar. But Labor Day’s just around the corner, and, as it always does, the summer is flying. Get outdoors, enjoy a bit of bouncing around with friends and families, and remember: We’ll all be grumbling all too soon about being locked indoors by the snow and cold.

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