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Do Triathlons Help You Live Longer?

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Swimming, cycling, and running come with a multitude of health benefits.

If you compete in triathlons, you could tap into the advantages, and reduce the individual risks, of each activity.

But can competing in triathlons actually help you live longer?

Research suggests that running, swimming, and cycling your way through a triathlon could lead to a longer life.

As you shed pounds, strengthen your body, and improve your cardiovascular health, you can reduce your overall risk of mortality due to cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.

You may also incur some risks when you participate in triathlons, but do those perils outweigh the longevity and other benefits of the sport, like many others?

Read on for a deep dive into the risks and rewards of competing in triathlons, which run right down to your life insurance.

Who Competes in Triathlons?

triathletes sprint for the finish lineWhile the notion of competing in a triathlon may have seemed far-fetched a few decades ago, the popularity of the endurance sport is on the rise.

Statista reports 4.04 million people competed in triathlons in 2017, up from just 1.28 million in 2007.

Around 820,000 of those participants were children, with young adults accounting for another 800,000.

USA Triathlon’s annual Membership Survey Report sheds even more light on the demographics of triathletes.

In 2016, 65% of the sport’s participants were male, and more than 80% of respondents had at least a 4-year college degree.

While a growing number of children and young adults are participating in triathletes, the report found there are more competitors in the 40 to 49-year-old range than any other individual age group.

What Are the Benefits of Competing in Triathlons?

Whether you’re one of the nation’s 4 million triathletes or you’re looking to up your athletic game and join their ranks, you’re in luck.

The list of benefits to competing in triathlons is long and life-giving.

Here are some of the greatest advantages of swimming, cycling, and running in sequence.

Big-picture Benefits

Triathletes enjoy plenty of health-related rewards for their effort, but the benefits don’t end there.

Before we dive into the health advantages, here are a few big-picture rewards you may not have considered:

  • See new scenery: Oftentimes, triathlons take competitors off the beaten path. Rather than bike lanes, tracks, and gyms, you get to run, pedal, and paddle through some breathtakingly picturesque places. For many competitors, the views are worth the effort.
  • Diversify your workout: In the famed words of William Cowpers, “variety is the spice of life.” If you’ve run yourself into a rut and want to diversify your daily routine and the events you compete in, triathlons could be the perfect solution.
  • Meet new goals: Completing a triathlon is an impressive feat. Whether your goal is to accomplish something new, amp up your physical activity, get back into competing after an injury, or check off a bucket list item, a triathlon could be just the challenge you need.
  • Find community: One of the biggest benefits of training for and competing in triathlons is finding community with people who share the same passion as you. Training partners, groups, club members, and fellow competitors can encourage you to push past your limits and meet your goals.
  • Boost confidence: When you channel your efforts into conquering a significant challenge like a triathlon, you bolster your self-confidence in a profound way. You’re also strengthing your mind and body, which is a major morale booster.

But when you engage in physical activities like the ones involved in a triathlon, you impact more than your attitude and the numbers on your bathroom scale.

Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits triathletes enjoy.

Whole Body Workout

Running, swimming, and cycling work different parts of your body, strengthening your bones, joints, and muscles.

Running strengthens your bones and works your leg muscles. So does cycling, targeting your flexors, calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes.

Swimming takes it a step further, strengthening your upper body and core. It can also improve your posture and flexibility.

Combine all three activities and you get an impressive full-body workout.

If you’re looking to strengthen and tone your entire body, triathlon training is an effective exercise program.

Reduce Impact

Endurance running is notorious for causing injuries.

Engaging in the same physical activity, especially running on pavement repeatedly, puts excessive stress on the same body parts.

The constant duress can lead to joint problems, fractures, tendinitis, and other painful conditions.

While you still run the risk of injuring yourself due to overusing body parts like your feet or Achilles tendons in triathlons, it’s no more dangerous than other races of the same intensity.

Triathlons involve cross-training, reducing the constant impact on the same areas of your body.

That balance gives your body a breather as it shifts through the stages of the triathlon.

Boost Mental Health

While you may not always be smiling as you trudge through your morning workout, exercise does have a positive effect on your mental health.

A recent literature review in Neurophyschobiology explains,

Exercise increases… serotonin (5-HT), dopamine (D), acetylcholine (ACh) and norepinephrine (NE). Moreover, exercise increases the activity of some subtypes of receptors for neurotransmitters changing the cortical/subcortical activity….”

The body’s release of the happy hormones above in response to exercise makes running, swimming, and biking key pieces of many depression and anxiety sufferers’ treatment plans.

Training for a triathlon could be an excellent stress-reliever and mood booster.

A study in Medicine in Science and Sports Exercise even suggests cycling and other physical activities lead to a better ability to focus and complete critical thinking tasks.

Induce Weight Loss

One of the leading reasons people hit the track, bike, or pool is to lose weight.

While you don’t have to compete in an Ironman to shed pounds, the intense cardio involved in triathlons can help you lose weight and keep it off.

You may even experience afterburn, where your body continues to burn calories for hours after a high-intensity workout.

The standard recommendation for good health is to exercise at least a half-hour, ideally daily, at a moderate pace, to reduce cardiovascular risk and diabetes.

However, research suggests, “levels of exercise greater than this minimum recommended amount may be important for maintaining weight loss long-term.”

Between training and competing in triathlons, you can crush weight loss goals, keep the pounds off, and diminish the risk of diseases associated with obesity.

Strengthen Heart Health

According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic suggests triathlons could lead to negative consequences in some athletes after years of competition, like arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation.

However, the research concluded that the pros for your heart health outweigh the cons.

The Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention seconds their findings, explaining that exercise can improve heart function and “at least, partly restore its ability to effectively function as a pump.”

The article presented even more good news for triathletes:

the most recent studies in patients with established heart disease suggest that a high relative, yet aerobic, intensity of the exercise training improves the intrinsic pump capacity of the myocardium, an effect not previously believed to occur with exercise training.”

Strenuous exercise can improve your heart’s function, prevent plaque buildup, and effectively lower your cholesterol.

Kick Cancer

One of the best ways to fight cancer is to get active.

In an analysis published in the Journal of Nutrition, Friedenreich and Orenstein analyzed 170 studies on the effects of exercise on cancer.

They found that along with weight loss and hormone regulation,

The evidence for decreased risk with increased physical activity is classified as convincing for breast and colon cancers, probable for prostate cancer, and possible for lung and endometrial cancers.”

You can reduce your odds of suffering from some of the most lethal forms of cancer by getting physical.

In this case, the more strenuous the exercise, the better.

And if you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer, exercising can help you as you battle the effects of the disease.

Live Longer

Added together, all of the health benefits above could equate to a longer life.

The US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines reports there is strong evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of:

Each of these conditions puts you at a high risk of going to an early grave. When you reduce the risk of the conditions, you lower your overall risk of mortality.

Triathletes are likely to train consistently and regularly, keeping the risk factors above in check and potentially adding years to their lifespan.

Triathlons and Risk

Competing in triathlons is fun, fulfilling, and chock-full of health benefits. It could even go so far as to impact your family’s finances.

Running, cycling, and swimming may alter your access to life insurance and the rates you pay for coverage.

Life insurance is centered around risk, specifically how much of a risk you pose to life insurance companies.

When you significantly reduce your risk factors, you may be able to reduce the cost you pay for life insurance.

Risks of Triathlons

There are a lot of moving parts to triathlons, and they do come with some noteworthy risks.

Below are a few of the biggest health-related risks of competing in triathlons:

  • Overheating/ hypothermia: The beautiful scenes of triathlons sometimes take competitors through extremely hot and cold climates. To reduce the risk, you should do your research and suit up appropriately for every competition.
  • Infection: When you swim in freshwater, you are at risk of contracting a bacterial infection like leptospirosis, which usually leads to flu-like symptoms. Fortunately, infections like this one are somewhat rare and easily treatable with antibiotics.
  • Cramping: Muscle cramps are a common complaint of endurance athletes. To avoid this painful occurrence, stay hydrated and well-stretched.
  • Dehydration/hyponatremia: In and of itself, dehydration is a major problem. Equally threatening is hyponatremia, often caused by drinking excessive amounts of water. Both can be combatted by monitoring and balancing your liquid intake.
  • Injuries: Running, swimming, and cycling long distances are likely to spin out some injuries, especially when you are one of many competitors. Wearing helmets and following race guidelines can help you avoid these occurrences. You’re also at risk of musculoskeletal injuries and should be sure to train appropriately before a race.
  • Drowning: Doing what you can to avoid muscle cramps, keeping calm, and ensuring you’re a strong swimmer comfortable with swimming the distance required for the triathlon can drastically reduce your odds of drowning.
  • Stomach problems: Many triathletes are affected by gastrointestinal issues during the competition, with symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea, which subside after the race is over.
  • Cardiac episodes: A recent Annals of Medicine report cited “1.74 out of every 100,000 competitors” die suddenly or by cardiac arrest. You should see a doctor regularly to ensure your heart is up for a triathlon before competing.

With these risks in mind, you may be wondering if triathlons are worth the trouble.

In response to the Annals of Medicine publication, Dr. Aaron L Baggish, Cardiovascular Performance Program director at Massachusetts General comments,

These findings shouldn’t scare people away from doing triathlons. But the study does identify some issues about these events that are worth understanding.”

The solution, he says, is to listen to your body, consult with a doctor, and take the necessary precautions before enjoying the worthwhile benefits of a triathlon.

Risk Factors Underwriters Consider

The good news: as far as underwriting is concerned, the health benefits of triathlons far outweigh the risks. As a triathlete, you are far less risky to insure than a sedentary individual.

Here are some of the main factors life insurance companies use to assess risk:

  • Weight: Underwriters will pay close attention to your weight, using the BMI in their assessment. Being overweight can negatively impact your rates, but so can sudden and drastic weight loss. The key is to maintain a healthy weight, which you can achieve with triathlon training.
  • Cardiovascular health: Since heart disease can be so lethal, it’s one of the main factors underwriters consider. Triathletes’ constant training can improve heart function, halt plaque buildup, and lower the risk of suffering from heart disease.
  • High blood pressure: Hypertension can be a major red flag for life insurance companies, making the cost of coverage steeper. Staying active could work to lower your blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol: Underwriters look at both HDL, good cholesterol, and LDL, bad cholesterol, when they assess your health. Once again, running, swimming, and cycling can help.

Though you can lower the health risks above, there are a few underwriting factors you can’t tackle with exercise and a healthy diet.

Underwriters will also consider any health conditions you take medications for, along with your age, sex, and family health history.

Last, they’ll look at your job and hobbies. Triathlons aren’t high-risk hobbies, but activities like bungee jumping and race car driving are.

Can Triathlons Save You Money on Life Insurance?

The results are clear: competing in triathletes lowers your risk of mortality, thus helping to lower your life insurance rates.

But the rewards keep coming. Rather than simply making you less of a risk to insure, your dedication to your health could get you discounts on life insurance.

Health IQ is a company committed to rewarding fitness-focused individuals for their efforts by working with industry-leading providers to secure lower rates for triathletes and other exercise enthusiasts.

They do so with weight indexes which recognize the muscular build of athletes.

They also use your activity level to offset the negative effects of factors like high blood pressure or a poor family health history, going to bat for you.

You simply complete a quick online application, which will pose some basic underwriting questions and ask for verification of your activity level.

Final Thoughts

With all of the benefits in mind, it’s clear to see why over 4 million people competed in triathlons last year.

Triathlons provide competitors with a thrilling way to stay in shape, see the world, push past their limits, and reach new heights.

You can work your whole body and diversify your routine, combining three of the most popular physical activities into one.

While the sport isn’t without its risks, those risks pale in comparison to its life-giving benefits.

If you’re up for an adventurous challenge, competing in triathlons could be a lifegiving venture for your mind, body, and soul.

Author:

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Parker King

Parker King is a researcher and editorial writer with a Masters in Professional Communication from Clemson University. She has years of experience in the nonprofit sector and writing in the world of personal finance, insurance, and other topics.

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