In medicine we’re often reminded not to base our therapy solely on lab test results. Although it’s tempting to reduce patient care to a checklist of “normal” bloodwork targets, we all know that this is only a fraction of the total health picture. Today I made a mistake that brought this truism home: “Don’t treat the number, treat the patient.”
I’m turning 40 this year and decided to make an ambitious fitness goal for myself — to be in better shape at 40 than I was at 30. No small feat for a person who used to be in good form a decade ago (not so much now, ahem). So, I joined a gym owned by an affable triathlete and invited her to make me her project. Let’s just say that Meredith believes that one piece of sprouted grain bread is the breakfast of champions — and with that she has me doing many hours of cardio sprints and strength training every week. I’m still alive. Barely.
Today in my endurance spinning class (an unusual form of torture where you get yelled at — I mean encouraged — on a stationary bicycle for an hour and a half in a dark room filled with high-decibel rock music and sweaty co-sufferers), I was somewhat alarmed by my heart rate. I was taught in medical school that one’s maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So mine should be about 180. I assumed that anything higher than that was incompatible with life.
So when I saw my heart rate monitor rise to 185 on a steep climb at maximum speed, I wondered if I might be about to die. I certainly felt physically challenged, but not quite at death’s door, so I looked around sheepishly at my nearest peer’s monitor to see if she was handling the strain any better. Nope, she was also at 185. “Gee, what a coincidence,” I thought. “We must be exactly the same fitness level.” Read more »