Sys­tem up­grade Plus My life in sex

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents - @zoesqwilliams

It’s the first sport­ing in­jury of my life, sus­tained while I was train­ing for a longer out-of-town cy­cle with Bel­laVelo. An­other cy­clist wear­ing track­suit bot­toms (this is rel­e­vant) un­der­took me, and his pocket hooked on to my drop han­dle­bars. I didn’t re­alise – I just thought: well, that’s bad luck, to lose con­trol of your steer­ing at the ex­act same time as the guy in front pulls his trousers down – and wham, the next thing I knew, my shoul­der hit the pave­ment. The thing af­ter that, I had one use­less arm.

A week later, I couldn’t lift a pint. I want to say some­thing bol­ster­ing about re­cov­ery in your 40s, some­thing that makes the hu­man body sound mys­te­ri­ous and adap­tive, but the phrase I’m look­ing for is “not as good”. Ev­ery­thing that goes wrong is wronger, and right­ing it is slower. “Around your late 30s, you’ve peaked, and re­cov­ery will get slower,” os­teopath Hashim Sai­fud­din ex­plains. “Your heart and lung ca­pac­ity are de­creas­ing, very slowly, which re­duces your out­put.” Plus your in­ter-ver­te­bral discs don’t re­hy­drate so well, so all the shock they would have ab­sorbed goes into your bones in­stead.

The sports in­jury spe­cial­ist Paul Ar­gent is a bit more bru­tal. “Past 28, we’re in a bat­tle. Peo­ple al­ways think, if you smash your­self, you’ll adapt; the harder you go, the bet­ter the out­come. That is not the case. The harder you go, the worse the out­come. It’s not sexy, but it’s the truth.”

They’re called “week­end war­rior in­juries”. You don’t need a bike: all you need is a seden­tary day job and a stupid at­ti­tude. The in­juries Rachael, a physio, sees are from cross fit, run­ning and row­ing, but it’s not the ac­tiv­ity so much as the in­ten­sity. “In­juries in this age group are all about peo­ple train­ing too quickly, do­ing things their bod­ies aren’t ready for.”

Peo­ple think train­ing for a marathon means do­ing some­thing that’s a bit like a marathon, but Paul says, “that’s like, in­stead of work­ing on a car to get it ready for a race, you’re just driv­ing it”. You have to build your strength, and that is a slower and deeper job than just push­ing your­self. And warmups are of lim­ited use. “Sit­ting at a com­puter, that’s a very cold state,” Hashim says. “High-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise is a very hot state. A warm-up isn’t re­ally go­ing to take you from one place to an­other.” You have to con­sider the con­trast be­tween your reg­u­lar day and your ex­er­cise, and not make it too great.

Surely peo­ple who do too much are health­ier than peo­ple who do noth­ing? “Yes and no,” Hashim says. “Peo­ple who do noth­ing will have car­dio­vas­cu­lar prob­lems. Peo­ple who do too much will have mus­cu­lar-skele­tal prob­lems. But in­ter­nally, their bod­ily sys­tems will be health­ier.” But what does “healthy” mean? Ac­cord­ing to Paul, “it’s be­ing able to do what you need to do pain­lessly, sleep well and feel good when you wake up.”

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