The Human Body And Psyche Are Fragile Machines That Respond To Load


Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”

Tao te Ching, Lao-tzu, Translation by Steven Mitchell

Hi folks,

“Your risk-benefit calculation must include a rate-of-strain component.”

The FitOldDog Safe Exercise Wheel runs clockwise, starting at the top, with reward or celebration as a critical final component of each cycle.

The FitOldDog Safe Exercise Wheel is a clockwise cycle, starting at the top, with reward or celebration as a critical final component of each cycle.

From time to time people write to me to ask how they should best approach exercise following life-threatening events. Usually the request mentions their fear that exercise might be dangerous for them. I discussed the question of safe approaches to exercise following aortic dissection surgery in a previous blog post, which was my response to a request for advice on the subject. I complemented this post with an article on the critical issue of living in the present by letting go of the past. I often hear people who are out of shape talking about their glory days in college, but this doesn’t help them deal with now. Today is all that really exists, so the trick is to live here and now and enjoy it as much as you can, and in my opinion that is hard to do if you don’t have some kind of physical activity built into your daily life. But what do you do if you fear that such exercise will trigger a heart attack, ruptured aneurysm, or a stroke? My answer is that such fear can lead to no life at all.

I recently mentioned the subject of fear in relation to my running shoelaces being too tight, in response to which I received an interesting comment from my brother, Trevor, who is a war veteran amongst many other interesting things. Here is what he had to say with respect to my statement that “fear is not amenable to clear thought.”

“Sorry, do not agree. There is a time and a place for fear.
Fear keeps you atuned and attentive amid the battle’s heat.
Fear has a role and in the right place keeps you alive.
However, like fire is not good if it becomes master and ceases to be servant.
Yes, an uncontrollable and at time insolent servant, but a servant nonetheless.
What you describe is just an imagination running amok amidst your darkest fear.
Imagination again is a servant but a much less problematic one than fear.
So accept my diagnosis.
Try elastic shoelaces.
They may well be the Tao of your toes.

Well, I was wearing elastic laces, but Trevor’s comments caused me to reflect a little further on fear. I agree that it is an essential tool for survival, and it can clearly be either constructive or paralytic. For the people who write to me about exercise with a major health challenge, it is essential that they conduct their own ‘risk-benefit analysis.’ You assess the risks. You assess the benefits. You determine your personal risk averseness, which only you can do. And you decide whether you’ll take a chance on getting out of your chair, walking around the block, or becoming an ultra marathoner, with all the risks that that entails. Once you have decided to actually do something, the next most important question that you must answer is “How shall I train to maximize benefit and minimize risk?” This comes down to assessing your optimal load rate.

It’s your life, so you get to choose. My family and friends don’t seem to worry too much about my Ironman training. I think that they are reassured by my carefully calculated approach to the issue, which is laid out in my FitOldDog or Safe Exercise for Better Health Training Wheel shown above. I might still croak out there one day on the road, but at least I will have lived my life to the full, and it would appear that my actions may inspire others to follow their path to a full life.

FitOldDog’s advice is that awareness is the key, and such awareness cannot be gained alone, as you will need guidance from others along the way. Chose your mentors carefully.

What is your risk-benefit conclusion, I wonder?

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Yes, I have a pudendal nerve entrapment and this inhibite all sorts of exercise.
    There is however on form of exercise that is in no way harmful. That is walking. I walk for miles and miles. Walking is good it enables you to see the world about you. And the world about me is Somerset. Some footpaths and pathways here have been in continuous use since neolithic times. So I walk where generations have walked before. For me walking is now essential to writing. Walking is rhythmic as is my writing.

    However if I had a different condition the prevented me from walking then I must needs come up with alternatives.

    • I also love to walk, it is very meditative for me, especially along quite North Carolina trails. It is also really good conditioning for the Ironman. Keep walking, brother. -kevin

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.