Cycling Over 50: 'The benefits just don't outweigh the potential consequences'

Every now and then I must relearn the lesson that doctors aren’t necessarily scientists.

This is from The Huffington Post: “Cycling Injuries: A New Epidemic?

I have treated hundreds of [facial] injuries. Facial fractures may result from any significant blunt trauma — motor vehicle accidents, physical altercations, sports injuries.

In the last year I have witnessed a new injury demographic, amounting to almost an epidemic: bicyclists over the age of 50.

The Huffington Post: "Cycling Injuries: A New Epidemic?"Shut up.

Need I continue?

Alright, but I’m annoyed.

The author of that piece is Michael Yaremchuk, M.D., Chief of Craniofacial Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Apparently, if you get your face smashed in Massachusetts, he’s the guy you want to see. I’m sure he’s an awesome surgeon.

But imagine that you’re a doctor working in a hospital ER, and you began to notice that you are seeing an increase people who have choked on apples.

Apples are one of the five healthiest foods in the world.   But, you’ve noticed, lately a whole bunch of apple eaters seem to be taking huge bites and not taking the time to chew 20 times. Instead they precipitously swallow that oversize apple bite, and start suffocating. Next thing they know, they’re on a gurney looking at you, the ER doctor.

Would you call that an epidemic? Would you think that apples are something to worry about? Would you sound the alarm against ever eating apples again? You might if you were Michael Yaremchuk, M.D.

Or would you say, Wow! People are eating a lot of apples. That’s really good news! Those older folks with no teeth might want to think about sugar-free applesauce, but all in all, Go apple eaters!

My daily observation tells me that bicyclists (young and old) while slowing motor vehicle traffic on Commonwealth Avenue rarely stop for red lights or stop signs, frequently ride outside of the bike lane and often ride on the wrong side of the street.

Ah! So now we know what this is about. This is taking anecdotal data–“my daily observation”–on a novel phenomenon, a cultural change, and drawing a self-serving recommendation: Get all of those cyclists off of my roads!

How many craniofacial injuries from car accidents does Yaremchuk see per year?

(Related question: In this recent spate of injuries reported by the doctor, how many are the result of cyclists’ encounters with cars?)

I’d venture that every increase in cycling injuries is more than offset by a decrease in auto injuries, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

But who’s contrasting those health problems to the data on the benefits of cycling? Those health problems are normal.

“While being dangerous,” he says, matter-of-factly…

…city bike riding also has a limited exercise benefit. If you weigh 150 lbs and walk two miles to work at four miles/hour you will burn 150 calories. If you ride your bike that distance at 10 miles/hour, you will only burn 75 calories.

If you are over 50, think twice before you get on a bicycle, especially if you plan on riding in busy traffic. The benefits just don’t outweigh the potential consequences.

On ChicagoNow, Brent Cohrs has a good response to Yaremchuk’s column:

I ride with a lot of people over 50. They may not be able to beat a 10 year-old at Wii, but they can maneuver around broken glass, dodge a distracted pedestrian, and avoid an opening car door in a nanosecond. They also have healthier hearts, stronger legs, and greater flexibility than the majority of couch potatoes their age. Bicycling is not the same as using a piece of cardio equipment in the gym. Cycling sharpens the mind while it works the body. Why would a doctor want to discourage this?

Why indeed.

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