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The Triathlete Blueprint Newsletter #43-How Triathlon Can Make You Live Longer?

Updated: Apr 8



Read time: 5min.

By Coach Yan Busset




The Paradox of Ultra Endurance

Let’s face it, extreme endurance events such as full-distance Ironman or ultra trails are not the healthiest events to put your body through. However, the lifestyle and training regime that comes with being able to achieve it is a game-changer in terms of health benefits, not to mention the mental boost and leverage that will lead your whole life in a better direction where "anything is possible," as they say. You may not realize it, but the benefits to your health from training for a triathlon are huge! Let's list these.



Why Triathlon Offers Superior Health Benefits

Why is triathlon a better sport in terms of overall health than others? Unlike swimming, biking, or running separately, the cross-training of the triathlon regime is a full-body workout. The combination of the three sports balances any negative impact of doing one separately. For example, prioritizing quality over excessive volume in running is possible while maintaining high performance with the additional metabolic aerobic fitness of cycling and swimming. Swimming plays a very important role in improving core strength, allowing for better energy transmission and stability in cycling and running. In cycling, you can train aerobically with low impact for many hours. Swimming has helped me to get rid of many nagging joint pains felt while cycling or running or working too long front of the computer. The natural stretching and impact-free horizontal position created by swimming act almost as an osteo/physio session that has helped me numerous times to "swim the pain out." So, this cross-training offered by triathlon allows you to have a more well-balanced and all-rounded fitness and physique, helps build mental resilience, helps stay injury-free, and kills the boredom. If your daily training is less boring, you will be more likely to stay consistent with training, and we all know consistency is the key to success.




The Health Benefits of a Balanced Training Regime

In the world of endurance sports, mastering the balance in training isn't just about pushing limits and contemporary training methods offer great health benefit. For example, the concept of "training slow to run fast," especially with Zone 2 Heart Rate Training, brings a whole host of advantages. It’s like upgrading your body’s engine, increasing the number of mitochondria and making each one work more efficiently, as shown in the study on World Tour cyclists' mitochondrial functioning[1]. This not only boosts your endurance but also drops your resting heart rate and blood pressure, making you a powerhouse of metabolic flexibility, making it a great longevity hack[2].

Then on the other side of the training intensity spectrum, there's the magic of mixing in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This part sharpens your glycemic control, particularly crucial for those battling type 2 diabetes, as seen in research on HIIT and glycemic control[3]. It's about finding that sweet spot between endurance and intensity, ensuring your body can switch gears flawlessly.

And what about strength training? Often underrated, it's actually a game changer for both race day performance and long-term health. By incorporating strength workouts (and I mean pushing heavy weights), you're not just building muscle; you're kickstarting your body's production of vital anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormones, highlighted in the study on resistance exercise and hormonal responses[4]. This isn't just about getting stronger; it's about triggering a cascade of health benefits that extend well beyond the race track[5][6].



Even on a DNA Level

Exercise can slow down the aging process. One probable sign of aging at the DNA level is the length of our telomeres. What are Telomeres? They are the end part of our chromosomes, that contains a part of our DNA sequence. With aging or an unhealthy lifestyle, they tend to shorten[7]. Studies are linking exercise with slowing down this aging process. Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis shows that exercise has a beneficial effect on telomere length compared with usual care or inactivity. Exercise for more than six months is associated with changes in telomere length [8]. So guys, start to swim, bike and run so you can later brag about the size of your telomeres, a wonderful conversation starter.


The Social Aspect of Triathlon Training

Also, a very important part in the longevity and mental health game is the social aspect. There is clear evidence that having more social interaction and friends in your life will make you live longer. People with strong social connections tend to live longer than those who are socially isolated[9]. In Finland, we are known to be people of few words, but even Finns, less spontaneous in their social interaction, we are all social animals. As a Finn from my mother's side and French from my father's, living in Helsinki but grown up in France, the social side of my training is super important to me. It was a cultural shock when I joined the local Helsinki club and found out that as soon as the training session was over, people vanished in the blink of an eye without talking much to each other. I needed to recreate my tribe. When I started my coaching business, one of the first things I implemented in my group features was a monthly meeting I called "Triathlon Café," where I "lured" my members with the goals of triathlon training topics to chat together, but behind that, the idea was to create links and unity, to bond people together. Now, I am so proud that over the years, the core of what is one of the main DNAs of my TCF coaching group, the social side, is stronger than ever. Lots of people join for the coaching and fall in love with the group atmosphere. On many times per week, we train together and end up chatting together during the post-training breakfast. Also, our FB member forum is a great way to call for training buddies to join for a ride. I created also social rides in partnership with Canyon and even a social triathlon where the performance was not the main point but participants were swimming for 30min, biking for one hour, and running for 30min in small loops as fast and as many loops they wanted, and instead of a rush transition, a lunch or coffee break to chit-chat. With my past as a competitor, I have a passion for performance, but over the years, I noticed that the name of the game is not only to perform in the short term on a key race but to last. And I saw that many top performers, pro or age groupers, were not all gifted; I saw many talents that didn’t last in the sport, but those who did were the ones that could sustain consistency in the long term. And whatever your motivation is, the daily grind is the key, and when you know that you don’t just wake up for yourself but that your coach and training buddies will be there, it’s so much easier to put the first foot out of the bed, and that, my friend, is the first step to longevity: keep moving.




In conclusion, As triathletes, we often live in a bubble and often forget that we are more active and have better fitness than 99.9% of the general population. And looking at all this health side benefits (and I didn’t list them all!) If you do triathlon, you are one of the lucky few. Call me biased, but it’s the best sport on earth.


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References:

1.San-Millán, Iñigo et al. “Metabolomics of Endurance Capacity in World Tour Professional Cyclists.” Frontiers in physiology vol. 11 578. 5 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3389/fphys.2020.00578 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291837/)

2. San-Millán, Iñigo, and George A Brooks. “Assessment of Metabolic Flexibility by Means of Measuring Blood Lactate, Fat, and Carbohydrate Oxidation Responses to Exercise in Professional Endurance Athletes and Less-Fit Individuals.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 48,2 (2018): 467-479. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0751-x (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28623613/)

3. Dunstan, David W et al. “High-intensity resistance training improves glycemic control in older patients with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care vol. 25,10 (2002): 1729-36. doi:10.2337/diacare.25.10.1729(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12351469/)

4. Kraemer, William J, and Nicholas A Ratamess. “Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 35,4 (2005): 339-61. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535040-00004(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15831061/)

5. Coleman CJ, McDonough DJ, Pope ZC, et al

Dose–response association of aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity with mortality: a national cohort study of 416 420 US adults

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2022;56:1218-1223 (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/56/21/1218)

6. Bennie, Jason A et al. “Muscle-strengthening Exercise Epidemiology: a New Frontier in Chronic Disease Prevention.” Sports medicine - open vol. 6,1 40. 26 Aug. 2020, doi:10.1186/s40798-020-00271-w(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32844333/)

7. Shammas, Masood A. “Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care vol. 14,1 (2011): 28-34.

8.Song, Seonghyeok et al. “Does Exercise Affect Telomere Length? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 58,2 242. 5 Feb. 2022, doi:10.3390/medicina58020242(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8879766/)

9. Yang, Yang Claire et al. “Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 113,3 (2016): 578-83. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4725506/)

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