Can Cold Weather Exercise Put Your Heart at Risk?

winter runningOf course it can. In fact, winter is officially heart attack season! Research shows that there are 53% more heart attacks in winter than summer (yikes). Excessive holiday celebration is one factor. The temperature outside and it’s effect on your hearth health is another.

Couch Potato to Snow Angel

To understand the impact of cold weather on your heart health, let’s look at an example. It’s late December and you are in full hibernation mode. Other than the occasional holiday party, your primary winter activity is sitting on the couch and watching football.

As usual, you dose off with a beer in one hand and a chicken wing in the other. When you wake up, there is a fresh blanket of snow of the ground. You quickly finish the beer and chicken wing (still in your hand) before heading outside for some competitive shoveling with the neighbors.

Uh-oh, I don’t like where this is going.

As you venture outside for the first time in days, your body starts to react to the cold temperature. Your heart goes into overdrive in an effort to keep your body warm. This means a faster heart rate and a rise in blood pressure. Paying no mind to all this, you start shoveling. Game over – permanent snow angel!

Prepare for Yeti

Does this mean it’s safer to stay inside on the couch? No – you just need to prepare your body for cold weather activity. The best way to prepare your body is to stay in shape during the winter months.

You can safely do this with a combination of indoor AND outdoor workouts. Before heading into the great outdoors, make sure you:

  • Warm-up inside – Stretch your muscles and get your heart rate up a bit in order to warm the core.
  • Dress appropriately – Dress in layers and avoid cotton or any material that will retain moisture. Don’t forget a hat and gloves. Rule of thumb is to dress for about 15 degrees warmer than it really is so you don’t overheat.
  • Wear reflective clothing – If you are walking or running before or after work, it’s likely dark. Make sure others can see you by wearing reflective materials in as many places as possible.

Once out there, watch your step.   It’s winter, so be on the lookout for ice, wet leafs, and Yeti.  Why all these words of caution (remember what happened when you rushed outside to shovel that snow)? A recent study found that heart attacks happen at the beginning of winter vacations. Why? Rapid transition from couch to slope.

Winter Motivation

Preparation may be the easy part in regards to winter exercise. Motivation can be the real challenge. Winter tends to make us lazy.  So how do you stay motivated during the winter months?

  • Set goals – remember, the beach is only six months away. Start preparing now! New Year’s resolutions might help get things started.
  • Take your “before” picture – enough said.
  • Train for an event – find a 5K or similar race coming to your area in the spring. Get a training plan and stick to it.
  • Hire a trainer – financial loss it typically a good motivator.

You are now prepared and motivated.  Step away from the TV and enjoy the benefits of some outdoor activity.

Coldrun=Photo credit: Alfred Hermida / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

HeartGeek Triathlon

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I survived the Dewey Beach Triathlon.  My family and I travelled down to the beach last Friday evening and met three friends who also made the foolish decision to swim, bike, and run for an ungodly amount of time.

After dinner at the Starboard, we all went back to my friends house and turned in somewhat early.  Nobody slept too well that evening and we all began stirring around sunrise the next morning.  Luckily, the starting line for the event is about five minutes from the house.

The morning was gray and the sea was angry.  Almost 1,000 competitors marched a half mile down the beach just so we could swim back the same distance.  Staring at the swells of the ocean during that walk was somewhat intimidating.

It wasn’t pretty, but I finished the swim.  My biggest obstacle out of the way, it was on to the bike.  This leg was my best and fairly uneventful.  After a quick transition, I was out running.

About a mile into the run, my quads started cramping.  Another runner told me to “stride it out”.  I basically sprinted two blocks and walked one block for the next 2.5 miles.  Funny thing is, it didn’t impact my time too significantly.

I was very happy to finish and was even pleased with my overall time.  Here is the kicker, when looking online at my results, I found out I was penalized.  Officially, the penalty reads “abandonment of equipment”.  I think it really means I dropped an energy bar!

Tri Friends

Time for a new challenge.  What should I do next?

Heartgeek Training With Moose!

moose swim

I hit the beach last weekend for a little training with a couple of longtime friends and fellow triathlon participants.  The wife and kids were away at Grandmas, so I was flying solo.  Early Saturday morning, I went for a four mile run, showered, and strapped the bike on the car.

Salt Water Nemesis

I arrived a little before lunch, had something to eat, and hit the beach.  The number one goal of this trip was to get in some ocean swim time.  Something I had failed to do during a week at the beach in late July.

With my ocean swim goal in mind, I decided a nap was in order.  Thankfully, my two buddies shamed me out of that plan.  Time to hit the water.  Lots of witty banter ensued about how much this was going to suck.

We set out with a goal of a quarter mile.  What would be a warmup in the pool.  Within a few minutes, I was already sucking wind.  Unlike a pool, it’s impossible to see where you are going.  And even with only three of us, I was about to collide with one of my buddies.

Swimming turned into basic survival.  Two of us hit the quarter mile goal in a very ugly fashion.  The third in our group mockingly completed a full half mile.  It was rough, but the obstacle and associated fear was finally removed.  I might, just might be able to do a half mile in the ocean.

The next day, we set out to conquer the bike course we will be riding on race day.  Eight miles out with the wind in our face and eight miles back with the wind in our face. The downside of riding near the ocean.

Later that day I commented that I still thought the swim was the worst leg of the triathlon.  My buddy replied back:

Let’s face it, they all suck!

Survey Says

So why are we, or for that matter, why does anyone put themselves through this misery.  Several years ago, fitness writer Ben Greenfield asked his readers why they did triathlons.   Scroll down to the comments to find some interesting responses.  Below are a number of those reasons:

  • To prove I can do anything
  • For balanced fitness
  • Personal challenge
  • Bragging rights
  • To be a bad ass!

There you have it.  Prove to yourself and everyone else that you are a BAD ASS!

Training Summary

For those keeping track,  here is the suggested training plan for the week (per

Triathlon Weekly Training

Monday was my off day.  I added a weight workout to Tuesday’s run.  I bumped the Wednesday swim up from a 400 to a 1600 (swimming is my Achilles).  Due to an early morning flight to Northern Minnesota on Thursday, I substituted a weight workout for the brick.

After arriving in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I had to make some major adjustments to the training plan.  I didn’t bring the bike, so here is the plan:

  • Friday – Find one of those 10,000 lakes
  • Saturday – Run
  • Sunday – Off
  • Monday – Run

Since this is a vacation, there will also be a lot of Dairy Queen and Pizza involved.  Good time to double down on the cardio.  Three weeks to race day!

Yes, Foot Pain Could Be a Blocked Artery

Blocked Iliac Artery

Like any good cardiac patient, I started exercising regularly after my heart attack.  I began with short walks and eventually built up to running 2-3 miles at a time.  Then my right leg died!

The death of my leg did not happen over night.  I noticed that my leg felt like it was “dragging” when I ran.  The same dragging or sense of weakness then developed when I was walking, particularly on stairs or inclines.   Eventually, I experienced extreme pain in the arch of my foot while running.
Due to the weakness in the leg, I decided I must have a muscular problem.

Dr. Moron

With my own moronic diagnosis in hand, I began an almost two year odyssey of visits to specialists:
  • Chiropractor – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
  • Physical Therapist – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
  • Acupuncturist – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
You get the idea.  I then mentioned the problem to my primary physician during a routine checkup.  He suggested a visit to the neurologist to see if a nerve was being pinched.
I scheduled a visit with the same neurologist that treated me post-cardiac arrest.  She was familiar with my background and suggested a vascular consult before we started messing with nerves and spinal cords.

Pictures Don’t Lie

A quick CT Scan (that’s an actual of my scan above) by the Interventional Radiologist found a 65% blockage in my iliac artery.  You can see the blockage on the left side of the image, right after the split from the aorta.  The iliac artery carries blood from the aorta down to the lower extremities.  A short-time later I had a stent placed in the artery and voila, blood started flowing again.
I learned a few important lesson from this experience:
  1. I am a moron and should stop self diagnosing
  2. I should also consult my primary care physician if something is wrong
  3. I have cardiovascular disease and that has to be factored into any physical issue I am experiencing
That final point is important.  Below is a list of signs & symptoms I found on related to poor blood circulation:
  1. Leg Pain While Walking
  2. Numbness and Weakness
  3. Coldness and Swelling
  4. Non-healing Sores
  5. Changes in Skin Color
  6. Weak Pulse in Legs
  7. Chest Pain (duh!)
  8. Erectile Dysfunction (doh!)
I am learning my lesson and bringing more issues to my doctor’s attention.  I am still getting cramping in my legs and feet.  My primary physician recommended a new statin and vitamin D supplement.  My cardiologist recommended a test for peripheral artery disease (PAD).  Luckily, there were no significant findings.  The point is, if you have a condition such as cardiovascular disease, don’t trivialize it’s impacts downstream.  Be a dork, or maybe even a geek and do some analysis of your own.  And, it should go without saying, talk to your doctor.

Triathlon Training – Swimming Sucks!

triathlon swim

Just a quick note on the triathlon training.  The good thing about announcing my intent to do this thing on my blog, I feel somewhat accountable to see it through.  The bad thing, I won’t be able to blow it off like I did last time.

I officially started training when I got back from vacation.  I did squeeze in a bike ride and a couple of runs at the beach.  But, true to my passive aggressive nature, I never swam!  Why – because I hate swimming!

I am using the 10 week (it’s actually 11) sprint  training plan from triewbies.  I got a late start (shocking), so I am beginning at week seven.  Hopefully my regular workouts leading up to this prevent heart attack #2.

So here was the week of tri-training (off day is Monday):

Tri Training Week 7

A Brick is a 30 minute bike ride followed by a 15 minute run and then a walk.  This is to get you used to transitions.  I can already tell cramping is going to be an issue for me.

I also added some weight training to the routine.  I am a big fan of the Turbulence Training programs by Craig Ballantyne.  Tuesday’s workout (Jacked and Lean for Meatheads – love the names) was a little too ambitious and I did some serious damage to my lower back.  Take a look at the routine and you will see why:

  • 1) Dumbbell Forward Lunge – 8 reps per side. Rest 30 seconds and repeat 2 more times.
  • 2A) Barbell Squats – 12 reps. Rest 1 minute.
  • 2B) Back Extension – 12 reps. Rest 1 minute and repeat 2 more times.

Kettlebell 500

  • 3) 2-hand Kettlebell Swings – 200 reps
  • 4A) Bodyweight Squats – 200 reps
  • 4B) Stability Ball Jackknives – 100 reps

The Kettlebells kicked my ass.  My lower back was already a little tweaked from a Sunday workout, but this routine did some real damage.   And I only did 1/2 the reps on the 500.

On Friday, I switched away from Jacked and Lean in an effort to prevent more damage to the lower back.  This is another Turbulance workout, but is more of a total body routine.

  • 1A) DB Seated Shoulder Press (8 reps) Rest 30 seconds.
  • 1B) DB Deep Step-ups (8 reps per side) Rest 1 minute.

Repeat for 3 supersets.

Superset #2

  • 2A) Biceps Chinups (Max reps) No rest.
  • 2B) DB Close-grip Floor Press (8 reps) Rest 1 minute.

Repeat for 3 supersets.

Superset #3

  • 3A) DB Standing 1-Arm Curl (6 reps per arm) No rest.
  • 3B) DB Overhead 1-Arm Extension (6 reps per arm) Rest 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 supersets.

Superset #4

  • 4A) DB Hammer Curls (10 reps) No rest.
  • 4B) DB Lying Triceps Extension (8 reps) Rest 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 supersets.

 What I dislike the most – swimming!  Swimming will tire your whole body out if you are not used to it.  It’s also very boring.  To top it off, there is a creepy underground swimming culture at the pool early in the morning.  If you are not a regular, you definitely feel out of place.

So far, nothing has been too challenging.  I am much more tired than normal, and of course the back is sore, but it’s been manageable.  I bike and walk on Sunday (followed by a massage for the back).  The good news – my procrastination, means I only have four more weeks of training!


Photo credit: akunamatata / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Is It Safe To Do a Triathlon After a Heart Attack?

tri picture

There is a reason you hear about people dropping dead during these events.  Heart attack or not, endurance events put a significant strain on the body, particularly the heart.  If you are going to train for and compete in one of these events, it’s important to understand your underlying cardiac condition and always consult your doctor.  It’s also important to be naked, play guitar and train with “friends”.

Silly Mamil

I am not the only middle-aged guy contemplating one of these events.  There are so many of us out there that we even have a nickname:  Mamils (middle aged men in lycra).  According to an article in Bloomberg, the average age of competitors in these event is on the rise.  The 40-60 year age bracket now holds 32 percent of the membership in USA Triathlon.

Sinking Mamils

study published by the Mayo Clinic found that the death rate for triathlons is about twice that of marathons because of the overall intensity, particularly during the swim event.  In a triathlon, the swim event is first.  Swimmers pumped full of adrenaline swim on top of each other as they position for the lead.  The panic, physical exertion, and lack of oxygen can be lethal.

The Bloomberg article mentioned above is an excellent resource and goes into much more detail on the risks.  I recommend reading this if you are contemplating one of these events.

Stupid Mamil

So why am I doing this?  Because I am a stupid!  Also, because I have two good friends to compete with, I need something new to keep me engaged, and I like the challenge.  I am already biking and running, what’s the harm of a little swim?  I outline my approach to exercise in a previous post if you are interested in reading more.


Trinewbie is great site full of training advice and programs geared towards first time competitors.  I actually completed one of these events back in my smoking days, prior to the heart attack.  That one was done with little training.  This time around, I will l somewhat follow the 10-week program on the Trinewbie site.

If you haven’t had a heart attack and are not exercising, hopefully my participation in this event has appropriately shamed you.  As always, check with your doctor before competing in one of these events.


Khan, Natasha, and Shannon Pettypiece. “Men Over 40 Should Think Twice Before Running Triathlons.” Bloomberg. N.p., 21 June 2013. Web. 19 July 2014.

James H. O’Keefe et al. Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 87, Issue 6 (June 2012) DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.04.005

Photo credit: guneyc / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)