The 2012 Summer Olympics are starting in just two weeks, and I'd like to take this opportunity to write about a perception that many people have about extreme athletes. In conversations, some people have given me the impression that they believe that good health goes hand in hand with the ability to perform as an elite athlete or complete extreme athletic events. I've heard more than once something like: "So and so is an expert on health and fitness because he was an Olympic athlete." Because an athlete who trains every day, eats crap to support their high calorie needs, and is constantly confronted with the stress of competition and lives in an environment where success is tested for performance enhancers is inherently an authority on optimum health. Or there's the Bayer aspirin commercial with the white-haired man saying: "I'm a marathon runner in absolutely perfect health, and I had a heart attack right out of the blue!" As though the ability to run a marathon negated the possibility of this man having a heart attack.
I'm not trying to say that all Olympic athletes fit the profile I described above, or even that that's the norm. But these are the stories we see and hear in the media about these elite athletes. In fact, I think that elite athletes' discipline, dedication, and love of sport are a great source of inspiration for all of us. As for running a marathon, that is a very impressive physical feat, and I congratulate and admire anyone who has crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles. But I wouldn't equate this accomplishment with immunity to any disease or health challenge, and I don't believe any doctors prescribe running a marathon in order to prevent heart disease. As with any advertisement or endorsement, consider the source and determine if the information or advice presented applies to you. Is eating Wheaties for breakfast really the only thing standing between me and a gold medal? I can already run a marathon, so if I start taking aspirin daily, will I prevent cardiac arrest entirely? In reality, extreme athletes are very rare. The average person isn't overdoing it in the exercise department, and unless you are ill or are recovering from an injury, you should probably be doing more physical activity. What kind, what intensity, how much, and how often depend largely on who you are as an individual. You don't have to join a gym or earn medals to achieve optimum health if that's not your thing. Start moving (more) and build your strength, and then let your body guide you to your limit. If you end up running a marathon, that's great! If you land somewhere in between, take pride in having made the effort. I look forward to your comments and questions on this topic. For now, I'm about to start one of my favorite exercises: Shopping. Combining speed walking from store to store, stretching to get things on in the fitting room, and weight lifting all my bags on the way home :)