If you’ve ever visited an amusement park or carnival, you probably recall seeing signs at the entrances of the attractions that read something to the effect of, “Please ensure you are healthy enough to ride this ride.” These signs also usually contain a brief description of what the ride experience will be like and a list of conditions that would render a rider unsafe to proceed.
The same is true for mountain biking – if you wish to ride, you must first ensure you are healthy enough to do so. How? By scheduling regular check-ups and health screenings with your doctor.
In this article we will discuss the importance of regular check-ups for overall health. Specifically, we will examine the key role of check-ups in relation to mountain biking – a demanding sport that requires riders to be healthy and fit in order to perform at their best and stay safe.
Why is it important to consult your doctor before exercise and get regular check-ups?
Quite simply, because regular health exams can help identify problems before they start. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular check-ups can also “help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and a cure are better. Regular exams can also help you identify patterns or behaviors that need to be changed or adjusted to improve overall health.
Specifically, for mountain bikers, regular check-ups are important for a few reasons:
- They help ensure you are healthy enough to ride – e.g. if your doctor discovers a blockage in your heart, you may need to visit a surgeon before you visit the trailhead
- They can identify potential issues or conditions that could be exacerbated or worsened by mountain biking – e.g. muscle tear
- They help identify problem areas or issues you must be cognizant of when mountain biking so you can adjust your riding accordingly – e.g. back injury
- They help you prepare to ride safely – e.g. if you are diagnosed with asthma, it is critical that you ride with an inhaler
- They help you benchmark and measure improvements to your health and fitness – e.g. a doctor can determine what benefits and improvements to your health are occurring as a result of your riding
Here are a few key areas that are critical for health screenings and check-ups in order to ensure you are healthy enough for mountain biking, and also riding your best.
Mountain biking is an excellent source of cardio and is sure to get your heart pumping. Sacred Rides says that steep climbs will “challenge your cardiovascular strength and over time your heart will become stronger. The recovery period for those climbs will decrease and you will find it easier to accomplish longer, and more challenging rides.”
But in order to enjoy the cardio benefits of shredding singletrack, your heart must first be healthy enough for demanding exercise like mountain biking. Regular heart-health screenings will help you determine if your ticker is working properly and identify any issues or potential issues. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), managing your risk factors is the key to preventing cardiovascular disease. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high total cholesterol or high blood glucose. Regular doctor visits and screenings will help you identify which, if any, risk factors you have.
Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D. says, “Regular cardiovascular screening is important because it helps you detect risk factors in their earliest stages. This way, you can treat the risk factor with lifestyle changes and pharmacotherapies, if appropriate, before it ultimately leads to the development of cardiovascular disease.”
Interestingly enough, exercise is one of the factors that can most drastically decrease your risk of heart disease. So if you ensure your heart is healthy enough to exercise and then get out and exercise, you can ensure the continued health of your heart. Kind of comes full circle, doesn’t it?
According to Robin Madell of HelathLine, research published in the journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, found that “improved fitness over a six-year study period was associated with a 19 percent decreased risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths in men—and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any cause.”
The American Heart Association recommends cardiovascular screening beginning at age 20, and the frequency of follow up will depend on your level of risk as determined by your doctor.
Some common methods for testing include stress tests and echocardiogram. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, stress tests can show some possible signs and symptoms of heart disease, such as:
- Abnormal changes in your heart rate or blood pressure
- Shortness of breath or chest pain
- Abnormal changes in your heart rhythm or your heart’s electrical activity
Blood pressure tests
Regular blood pressure screenings are vitally important because high blood pressure typically displays no symptoms. According to AHA, high blood pressure, known as hypertension, “greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.”
AHA recommends that those whose blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years starting at age 20. If your blood pressure is higher your doctor may want to check more often.
Your doctor or specialist will measure your blood pressure by placing an inflatable arm cuff around your arm to determine your blood pressure reading.
Cholesterol is an important factor in your heart health as high cholesterol is a considerable risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. For these reasons, it is critical that you schedule regular cholesterol screenings to know your cholesterol levels.
A cholesterol screening “measures your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides.” A small sample of blood is drawn in order to perform a cholesterol test.
According to AHA, those age 20 or older who have not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, should have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years “as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment.”
While it may seem like a no-brainer, good eyesight is pretty critical in mountain biking. Ask almost any mountain biking coach or expert and they will tell you that one of the most fundamental and essential skills in mountain biking is looking ahead. Mountain biking occurs on natural surface trails of varying terrain and obstacles. Whether it’s a rock, root, log or switchback, the trail is constantly changing and you must constantly look ahead in order to anticipate what is coming next and adjust accordingly. However, it’s hard to look ahead if you can’t see.
Schedule a regular eye exam with your optometrist to ensure that your eyesight is strong. If correction is needed, schedule regular check-ups to make sure your prescription is appropriate and providing you with the vision you need to perform on the trail. Most experts recommend an eye exam every one to two years.
While you may opt for contacts, it is always a good idea to don protective eyewear when riding in order to block dust and debris kicked up from your tires or those of riding partners. A number of brands offer prescription shades designed specifically for cyclists, including Rudy Project, Smith and Oakley. However, one of the best values for cycling-specific prescription optics is Serfas.
A tune-up for continued, healthy performance
If you are a mountain biker, you are an athlete. Just as cars need regular tune-ups and checks to ensure they are performing their best, so too do athletes require regular health check-ups. While sports offer a number of health benefits to their participants, they can also increase the likelihood of injury due to high impact and strain put on muscles, joints and other parts of the body. Athletes who forego regular check-ups and health screenings are more likely to develop serious injuries as minor issues go unchecked. A sprain may become a tear. A pulled muscle that required a week off the bike may turn into a season-ending injury. If ignored, that annoying clanking under the hood can turn into a thrown transmission. Don’t allow laziness or pride to prevent you from consulting your doctor and getting regular check-ups. Take the time to ensure your “engine” and all other major parts are working properly and running smoothly!
Tips for scheduling and keeping appointments
One of the most difficult parts of check-ups is the scheduling and coordination. But the easier the process is, the more likely you are to schedule those important health screenings, right? Here are a few of the things Kelsey Chomistek does to “keep doctor’s appointments from taking over [her] life:”
- Keep an organized appointment calendar (or app)
- Put doctors into your contacts list
- Book appointments early in the morning before the doctors get behind schedule
- Avoid booking appointments around rush hour
- It’s OK to not settle for the appointment they give you and ask for a date that works for you
- Book multiple appointments on one day
- If evenings and weekends are better for you, check to see if some offices have flexible hours
There is no question that mountain biking is both fun and healthy – with benefits ranging from muscle building and fat burning to a workout for the cardiovascular system. But don’t become complacent about your health and assume that if you’re mountain biking, you’re healthy. As previously mentioned, many conditions and health issues such as hypertension are not accompanied by signs and symptoms.
You’ve made the decision to be active for your health, now make the decision to schedule regular check-ups for your health. Both your body and your riding will thank you. Take control of your health so you can take control of the trail!
So keep in touch and get out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.