So Davy Jones of The Monkeys died this past week of a heart attack. He was 66 years old. The autopsy stated the cause of death as: ventricular fibrillation resulting from severe coronary atherosclerosis. Now Dana Carpender weighs in on her blog with Another "Health Nut" Dies Young. That title rubs me the wrong way ... it's just that smugness doesn't go over well when one is not in stellar health themselves.
As everyone who doesn't live in a cave (and we assume that, having internet access, you do not live in a cave) now knows, Davy died two days ago of a heart attack at the age of 66. What has received less attention has been the mentions I have seen from those who knew him that Davy was a strict vegetarian, a devoted runner and "didn't have an ounce of fat on him." They're shocked that someone with such healthy habits could have died this way.
I've seen various explanations invoked: Davy may have been a vegetarian and a runner, one person said, but he also drank heavily. That explains it. Davy was a bitter man, his attitude caused sufficient stress to kill him, said another. Others simply point out that genes make a difference, too, and perhaps Davy had less-than-optimal gene structure. All of this is entirely possible. Heavy drinking is bad for you, stress is a killer, and we are all subject to our heredity.
Notably absent from the discussions I've seen, however, is another, very simple possibility: Neither vegetarianism nor running is particularly healthful.
Now this may well be true, and surely Carpender remembers Jim Fixx as well. Only for him the red meat was blamed. Very heavy drinking is likely to turn anyone, regardless of diet, into a the human equivalent of the LIRKO mouse pretty handily. Indeed, rather than look to other facets of his lifestyle at all, I'd say that heavy drinking was likely the sole reason for his fate and a cautionary tale for all of us. Look ... I'm no big fan of vegetarianism, it's not my cuppa tea although I've been toying with the idea of doing it for a month sometime just to see how my body will respond. I just think it's kind of ridiculous to look at the diet of any celeb and draw conclusions. Jack Lalanne lived to be 96 and likely lived a far cleaner life than Jones. As for running, I hope Dana will take Kent Altena aside on the LC Cruise and avail him of her cautionary wisdom.
But it may shock you to learn that serious running is bad for the heart. Marathoners have a higher rate of heart attack than the general population, not a lower one. Endurance running sets off a cascade of inflammatory substances in the body. There is also some evidence that endurance running can cause stiffness in the aorta, and increased blood pressure in the major arteries of the heart. As a massage therapist, I have known for a couple of decades that serious running is hard on the body -- of all the non-contact sports, it has the highest injury rate. Still, the information about heart damage surprised me.
Indeed, serious "cardio" -- the elevating of heart rate for long periods of time -- is drawing more and more fire. I know that my trainer friend Fred Hahn considers it a stress, rather than of any benefit, as do Dr. Mary Vernon and Dr. Michael Fox, both of whom have spoken on the Low Carb Cruise. Primal Fitness guru, Mark Sisson, a former competitive runner, now refers scornfully to "chronic cardio," blaming it for years of struggling with his health, despite (or, it appears, because) of being a professional athlete.*
After listening to all these paleo experts talk about exercising for the past several days, I'm a bit fed up with the "chronic cardio" bashing. Most of what people think qualifies these days is otherwise known as a minimal amount of human activity. But don't worry all ye low carb couch fauxtatoes,
* Please note that these various professionals are speaking of serious cardio -- distance running, elliptical, stair-climber machines, anything designed to get your heart rate up into your "aerobic zone" and keep it there for concerted periods of time. They are not against going for a walk, or a hike, or an evening of dancing, things that fit Sisson's primal exercise directive to move around slowly a great deal. A walk is still better than sitting on the couch staring at the tube.
Taking a walk is OK. Thanks for reminding me!