Getting along with doctors

From Pumpkinman 2011

There is a joke, which is probably older than I am, that has a patient moving his arm and saying, “Doc, when I do this, it hurts.”

The doctor says, “Don’t do that.”

It’s not a very funny joke. But it suggests what used to be one of the biggest problems facing aging athletes: getting our doctors to take sports seriously.

I’ve been fortunate in this regard. I had been seeing my GP for years before I took up triathlon. So he got an opportunity to watch me drop 30 pounds and drive my HDL level from 62 to 98. I still have plenty of work to do on my fitness, but I’m pretty sure doctors, who spend a lot of time with people in their 60s, don’t often see specimens with 7% body fat and a resting pulse in the 50s.

He’s a doctor and a runner, and he didn’t need to be sold on the value of exercise. But he has often told me that he’s impressed with my commitment to triathlon. So I like to think I have trained him a little such that it would never enter his head to respond to a complaint by saying, “Don’t do that.”

He’s not a specialist in sports medicine, but when I’ve got a medical problem that interferes with my regular activities, he tries to help me find a solution that accommodates my training.

As we geriatric triathletes increase in number, more and more doctors are taking his approach, which is good. We can expect this trend to continue. An article in the Washington Post last year by Rebecca Leet said that the over-55 segment is the fastest growing demographic for fitness club membership.

So if you, like me, believe you have seen an increase in the number of geriatrics at your triathlons every year, it’s probably not your imagination. And as we grow in number, and the number of doctors inclined to say, “don’t do that” dwindles, there will inevitably be a change in healthcare and that old joke will become even less funny.

It’s expressed pretty well in what journalists called the billboard paragraph from that Washington Post article.

“How we age is 30 percent genetics and 70 percent under our direct control,” says orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, author of “Fitness Over 40” and director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes, a University of Pittsburgh program aimed at helping older sports enthusiasts exercise effectively. “Baby boomers get that, and they want control — they’ve always wanted control. But sports medicine doctors haven’t caught on that these athletes want to hear how to keep playing — not why to stop playing.”

Go ahead and read the whole article. Leet interviews about a half dozen old people, and their attitudes are heartening.

My recovery continues. Yesterday, I did a half hour on the trainer, nearly all of it in power zone 2, with no ill effects. This morning I ran 1.35 miles before the discomfort in my hip showed signs of tipping over into pain. I’m trying to walk the line between babying myself and exercising prudently. It’s not always obvious.

My always excellent coach has told me to listen to my body. But because I’ve been on a reduced training schedule, the only way to prevent serious weight gain is to stay constantly hungry. So when I listen to my body, it says, “Give me one of those glazed coffee rolls from Dunkin Donuts.” This isn’t easy, is it?

Today’s weight: 156.1
Waking pulse: 56