What every midlife man needs to know about cardio exercise

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After six seasons and a couple of films, Sex and the City is back – and viral. No sooner did the show’s sequel And Just Like That… air yesterday than its die-hard fans’ cheers turned to boos, when Carrie Bradshaw’s husband Mr Big suffered a fatal heart attack after working out on a Peloton bike. The indoor cycling brand, which signed off on the use of its bike and instructor with no forewarning of the plot twist, swiftly issued a statement exonerating itself: “Mr Big lived what many would call an extravagant lifestyle – including cocktails, cigars, and big steaks – and was at serious risk as he had a previous cardiac event in season six.” 

But should a man of a certain age – especially one who enjoys such luxuries – avoid strenuous cardiovascular exercise and accept that it’s time to golf?

Mr Big is a good (if fictional) case study. The fabulously wealthy financier, played by Chris Noth, is now in his sixties. He has always been depicted enjoying the fruits of his success, being chauffeured around Manhattan or sinking martinis, but we never saw him exercise – until now. And just like that, Big died. You have to feel bad for Peloton. Perhaps it assumed the bike, which costs from £1,350, would be shown off spectacularly and fans would be drawn in by the now silver-haired heart-throb. Instead, it was a death-sentence. A full-stop. And its share price plummeted 11 per cent. 

Maybe Peloton should have been suspicious. While on one hand we’ve been jauntily encouraged to take up high intensity interval training, or spin, or sign up for that bucket list marathon, there is evidence that excessively strenuous exercise can affect heart health as we age. And ageing is the central theme in And Just Like That…. 

Real life cautionary tales include Andrew Marr, who had a stroke on a running machine, or Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg, who died while running on a treadmill. Yes, sticking to a nutritious diet, avoiding smoking and exercising is medically recommended, but studies also suggest that too much high-intensity exercise could cause problems. One, which monitored 1,000 over-60s with stable coronary artery heart disease for 10 years, concluded that while the most physically inactive were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those who were physically active (and were four times as likely to die of all causes), those who did the most strenuous daily exercise were also more than twice as likely to die of a heart attack or stroke. More does not always mean better when it comes to exercising as we age.

But hold your horses before you stick the Peloton on eBay: none of this means that men over 40 should avoid exercise. Far from it, according to Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. “It’s never too late to increase your physical activity or start a new sport, regardless of how little you have exercised in the past,” she says. “Whatever your age, being active now will make an immediate impact on your health, reducing your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.” 

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