When staff of the National Heart Institute (better known by its Malay acronym IJN) are not saving lives, a group of them take time out to take care of their own health.
The IJN Cardiac Cycle is a cycling club that organises regular rides for its staff and associate members, and occasionally travels to other places outside the Klang Valley.
Most recently, it was a loop from Kota Kinabalu to Kundasang, encircling the foothills of the Crocker Mountain range in Sabah.
A total of 646km with 8,122m elevation was covered in five days.
IJN cardiothoracic surgery department head Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Jeswant Dillon opines that it forms a better bond between staff members.
“There is camaraderie. In the club, we have various categories of staff,” he says.
“At work, we have a hierarchy based on position, but when you are cycling, it is borderless.
“It is very healthy for a company, especially when you want to have team building. It’s useful.”
With this in mind, IJN is going beyond its staff in promoting the benefits of cycling to include members of the public.
For the second year running, it organised the IJN Ride 4 Your Heart event on Nov 26, 2017. Incidentally, the event also celebrated the institute’s 25th anniversary.
Jointly organised by IJN and GoSportz, the riders started and finished at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus in Semenyih, Selangor.
Among the areas that the riders passed were Peres, Kuala Kelawang, Lenggeng and Broga.
All 1,700 spots for the ride were filled and there were international cyclists from 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Netherlands, Argentina, Australia and Ireland.
The cycling categories covered a distance of 115km and a fun ride of 38km.
There were various categories for the 115km race, including “Open” (men/women aged 16 and above) and “Men Veteran” (40 years and above).
The 38km fun ride was open to anyone aged 12 and above.
It was a challenging route with long, difficult climbs and descents on undulating terrains with lush rainforests and the scenic countryside keeping the riders company.
Ever the avid athlete and cyclist, Dr Jeswant was among the riders at the starting line.
He took to riding after injuring his knees playing competitive football in the Kuala Lumpur League.
Looking for an alternative that would not injure himself further, he turned to cycling and has not looked back since.
“Cycling is ideal for me as it is non-weight-bearing and is protective to the joints while allowing a good physical and cardio workout,” he says.
He even finds time to cycle when he is overseas and regularly joins a Weekend Warriors group for a weekend ride.
“In fact, I was in Melbourne for a conference and booked a ride there. There’s no better way to explore and absorb the city and countryside than on a bike.”
They normally take various routes, including along the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, and around Genting Sempah, Ulu Langat and Bukit Fraser.
“The cycling culture in Malaysia is looking for a place in society at the moment. It is evolving at a rapid pace,” he says.
“Cycling as a sport in and around the country has a big weekend culture. It is now common to see many cyclists in groups, especially in the Klang Valley, and there are many organised cycling events to cater for the rising number of enthusiasts.”
The club is also working with the Works Department to “adopt” certain roads that will be co-maintained by IJN and the department in order to make it more suitable for cycling.
A viable exercise
In terms of heart health, Dr Jeswant says that the American Health Association recommends a 30-minute ride at least three times a week.
Although, he says, any bicycle will do, getting the necessary protective gear like a helmet, lights and blinkers, is essential for safety.
“Heart disease is still the number one killer in Malaysia and it is affecting younger people,” he says.
Dr Jeswant points out that the average age of Malaysians dying from a heart attack is 58.5 years, compared to 66 in Western countries.
Cycling, he says, helps to improve one’s fitness levels besides enabling the release of endorphins that helps a person feel good.
It also helps in strengthening the musculoskeletal joints and muscles to prevent aches and stiffness.
Cycling is a good way to reduce weight by increasing metabolic rate, burning body fat and building muscle.
“In terms of cardiovascular disease, it helps to control many important risk factors,” he adds.
The major risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history and a sedentary lifestyle.
“If you have regular exercise, there is less propensity for obesity and diabetes, and your blood pressure and cholesterol can be lowered,” he says.
He adds that cycling is a relatively safe sport to pick up, except for a minority of patients who suffer from diseases like cardiomyopathy and Long QT Syndrome.
For those who have a family history of heart attacks or heart disease, it is advisable to first consult a cardiologist before taking up the sport.
He also emphasises the importance of stretching before and after a ride to prevent injuries and muscle stiffness.
Keeping track of progress
Dr Jeswant listed down a few ways one can keep track of progress.
The simplest and most basic way is by carrying out your own breath test – a rating of perceived exertion.
It is a subjective score of one to 10, which goes from “being very comfortable” to “totally blasted out”, he explains.
Another way is to get a smart gadget that helps track your progress, such as heart rate. Heart rate monitoring mimics the cardiology stress test.
Once a person has achieved the maximal target heart rate, it is advisable to ease off.
More sophisticated gadgets to monitor progress in cycling include the power meter. Power equals to work over time. It measures functional threshold power (FTP), which is wattage produced for a one-hour time trial.
A person can also divide training into five cycling zones. Zone 1 describes a light and relaxed breathing pattern, the aerobic Zone 2 breaths get deep and steady.
“With zone three, the tempo is slightly laboured breathing, while at four, it is lactate threshold with rhythmic and short breathing. Zone five is the maximum (VO2) with rapid and heavy breathing,” adds Dr Jeswant.
He says that one should not be afraid to take up cycling.
“Take baby steps. There is the misconception that it is expensive or difficult. Any bicycle will do. Just get out there and have some fun and you’ll be addicted before you know it.”