My understanding of fitness is informed by both my former work and formal training as an aerobics instructor and also by my fitness training for running races and triathlons. I used to be what some called “super fit”. That kind of came to and end when I got a severe autoimmune illness over 6 years ago and suddenly found it difficult to walk even two blocks. Prior to that, I had maintained a high level of fitness, mainly because I enjoyed it, and also because I thought it would protect me from health conditions that ran in my family, such as heart disease. That is probably true, but getting a health condition that was entirely unrelated was a blow and forced me to stop working and studying law(which I was doing at the time). I then had to take prednisone, a wonder drug which heals and restores energy, but at a terrible cost – it has awful side effects including muscle wastage and weight gain, so my fitness was further undermined by the drug which was at the same time healing me. I felt as though all my previous attempts to maintain a high level of fitness had been a waste of time and energy.

My understanding of how fitness worked (from the course I did to become a fitness trainer) was that if you completely stopped training, you eventually went back to the level of fitness you had before (ie. a very low level of fitness), but that if you started training again, you would regain your fitness quicker than if you had never trained and that that was the only lasting benefit from your previous training. However, recently I read a blog post (I don’t remember on which site), which stated that if you stopped training you would still retain more fitness than if you had never trained, and that if you were to race against someone who, all else being equal, had never trained, you would be considerably fitter than them and would beat them, the site even gave some numbers to substantiate and quantify this, I think it said that you would retain 50% of the fitness you had when you were fit.

The relevance of this information to me is that it belies what I had previously believed concerning fitness on longer term health and possibly explains why I am a reasonably strong cyclist now, even though  I will never be as fit as I previously was. I am also sure that now I am fitter than I would have been if I had never previously trained for fitness so I feel as if my former fitness training is not all wasted, as I believed for  a few years when I first fell ill. Also, my ability to train for fitness is affected by my illness which has a fatigue factor, and by the drugs which I have to take to control it, which are also quite fatiguing. I also believe that I have better withstood some of the side effects of those drugs due to my former training.

So now, I can go out for a ride and ride Fernleigh Track and back, though this does tire me out for a few days and I can’t do it that often. I also ride around town for transport,  and while this is fairly leisurely most of the time, it can mean an hour or more of riding a day. What I cannot do is ride (or train in any way) at a highly intense level, eg I cannot run anymore.

I am taking prednisone and methotrexate at low doses in addition to fortnightly infusions of intragam, for the information of those who may be in a similar situation and who may be interested in these details. I hope this s of some use to anyone who is in similar situation to me as it is difficult to find out about illness and its affect on sports performance.

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6 Responses to Cycling/Fitness/Illness

  1. anniebikes says:

    Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    Do you think this is similar to someone who is pregnant, was in great shape all during those 9 months, but believed she could pop out the baby easier than a less physical? But wait, there’s more. That same mom-to-be had complications, couldn’t push the baby out, but needed help. In the end it turned out well, but she was disappointed because she believed that her superior fitness itself was going to make the birth a breeze, or she was somehow immune to a long birth. Some things were beyond her control. But the after effect is she got back to exercising maybe sooner than a sedentary person. That “she” is me,

    With your description of retaining more fitness than if you never exercised, I wonder if this means a mental retention versus a physical one. In our minds if we know how to exercise, take a break for unexpected reasons, then get back to it because of our sport related mindset, isn’t it just that it is in our minds and not ingrained in our muscles? If you lead an active lifestyle, of course it is better than a non-active one, And the cerebral benefits are certainly clarifying too. There are many things beyond our control, illness, genetic diseases grim reminders of what life may hold for us. I’d like to think that getting outside in whatever capacity is a beautiful thing.

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks for a great comment Annie. The mental factor is certainly part of the equation and for someone who has been fit and say run swam or cycled fair distances, the thought of doing those distances again is less of a barrier. When I got ill some would say to me to just get
      motivated and ignore the fatigue but it is not possible when your body is not well, the same as it is not possible to give birth easily if your body does not do things the way it should or the baby is in the wrong position, some things are beyond our control. I have had people say to me that to cycle to certain places such as to the uni or the length of fernleigh is a long way but it does not seem that far to me and I guess that removes one barrier I may have to cycling there. I have to say that I have always liked the Nike slogan: Just do it!

    • Jess says:

      Someone stopped me in the street today and quoted Susan Sontag as having once said ” giving birth is the most intellectual thing you will ever do”. I agree and disagree. I think you get to a point where you need to give over completely and almost be an animal, forgetting everything you know on order to let your body take over without blocking it. I also think you need a huge amount of will control to help your body relax enough during The pain of labour so that the uterus and cervix can do their thing without being blocked physically by other tension. The fittest you can be in the lead up will definitely have big returns on your recovery, but aside from endurance to bear the labour, my understanding is that it’s the uturus that does most of the work. Getting back to topic though, the hormonal balance in the pregnant body prevents a greater level of fitness or muscle mass being met as far As I know, I remember the frustration that during the first trimester I would lose so much fitness due to morning sickness (or in my case, the ” all day vomits” ) and then never really be able to get it back later on in pregnancy, despite riding everywhere with my toddler on board.
      Vicki, I can relate to what you are saying in that as a “true” cyclist :ie one whole cycles for the joy of it, even when you have little energy the only thing you want to do with the energy you do have is pedal!

      • Vicki says:

        I think that pregnancy and birth are some of the biggest physical challenges we face and every good intention to stay fit and to give birth naturally can be sidelined by things we can’t control. There is also the worry about the baby too and that limited the exercise I got in my pregnancies as I didn’t want to harm them. I needn’t have worried though, all were born large and healthy and my births were relatively easy. Mental attitude helps us cope with bad things better and getting out and pedalling when you are able is the best thing.

  2. BB says:

    Nothing in comparison to your health concerns, but, just recently I had a number of reoccuring bouts of flu which resulted in me having time off work. I have never been a sporty person. I cycle to get places (my new computer tells me an average of 150kms a week) and I walk the dog about 5kms a day because she would drive me to distraction otherwise 🙂

    I’ve been really cross with the temporary limitations and lack of energy this month.Then I realised I was still cycling to get to the Dr and buy groceries (albeit tanked up on paracetamol and straight back to bed). I was still walking the dog shorter distances and when getting to work, grumbling about taking the train the whole way, I was still covering another 15kms round trip.

    Other staff had longer bouts of the flu (we all seemed to have more than one) and stayed in bed the whole time. Their lacklustre feeling seemed to drag on longer as well. In fact, I seem to have stayed more active and had a shorter recuperation than most of the inactive, bright, young things.

    Some of this, of course, was necessity. No car? Get your sweaty, shivering arse on the bike and stop complaining 🙂 Another factor I believe is expectation. You anticipate doing such and such and so do it, whilst bewildered as to why you can’t do it effortlessly.

    Whilst never having been a sporty, athletic person, I do feel, in the short term, my own modest level of activity assists with any minor health bumps I have. I can’t see why a high level of fitness wouldn’t help the body deal with a chronic long term health issue. If you play the guitar you keep your “finger memory”, why would the body not have a “fitness memory”? It sounds as though you have to deal with a frustrating and exhausting condition. (I can’t even begin to imagine how you cope). However, had you not been as fit as you were prior to it’s onset, I don’t know as you would manage the Ferleigh Track at all. So glad you do 🙂

    • Vicki says:

      I’m sorry to hear about those flus you are all getting over there BB, winter sucks is all I can say. If you are doing 150k a week on the bike plus walking you are pretty fit in my book, you don’t have to have fitness as the goal to be fit, sometimes it just happens incidentally. “Muscle memory” is the term we were taught in the fitness leaders course to describe the ability of our muscles to regrow or to be able to do something they were once capable of but are now too weak to do, and there must be a “fitness memory” too, it is ages since I did that course and they would have changed their minds about many things since then. It is great that you can recuperate better than your colleagues and I am sure that it would be due to your greater level of fitness, being fit has lots of benefits that are not always obvious.

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