Another "Health Nut" Dies Young

The death of Monkee Davy Jones is a melancholy thing for this Baby Boomer. Davy was my first celebrity crush; I was mad for him. I plastered my room with pin-ups from Sixteen and Tiger Beat magazines. My sister and I watched every episode of The Monkees, played their albums endlessly while singing along, pretending to be onstage. For me, before there was Bobby Sherman, there was Davy Jones. (All the dinosaurs are nodding their heads re Bobby. All of the youngsters are thinking "Who?")

As everyone who doesn't live in a cave (and we assume that, having internet access, you do not live in a cave) now knows, Davy died two days ago of a heart attack at the age of 66. What has received less attention has been the mentions I have seen from those who knew him that Davy was a strict vegetarian, a devoted runner and "didn't have an ounce of fat on him." They're shocked that someone with such healthy habits could have died this way.

I've seen various explanations invoked: Davy may have been a vegetarian and a runner, one person said, but he also drank heavily. That explains it. Davy was a bitter man, his attitude caused sufficient stress to kill him, said another. Others simply point out that genes make a difference, too, and perhaps Davy had less-than-optimal gene structure. All of this is entirely possible. Heavy drinking is bad for you, stress is a killer, and we are all subject to our heredity.

Notably absent from the discussions I've seen, however, is another, very simple possibility: Neither vegetarianism nor running is particularly healthful.

I have zero information on what sort of vegetarian diet Davy ate -- whether he was a vegan or a lacto-ovo vegetarian, whether he ate largely salads, nuts and seeds, and other fairly low carb foods, or based his diet on whole grains and soy. I simply do not know, and certainly there are versions of vegetarianism that are reasonably healthful, while others are a disaster-with-fireworks. I do suspect that, on the average, vegetarians are more likely to load up on carbs and limit fats than your average Joe, much less your average low carber. It is no secret that I feel this is unhealthful, actually increasing the risk of many diseases, including heart disease.

But it may shock you to learn that serious running is bad for the heart. Marathoners have a higher rate of heart attack than the general population, not a lower one. Endurance running sets off a cascade of inflammatory substances in the body. There is also some evidence that endurance running can cause stiffness in the aorta, and increased blood pressure in the major arteries of the heart. As a massage therapist, I have known for a couple of decades that serious running is hard on the body -- of all the non-contact sports, it has the highest injury rate. Still, the information about heart damage surprised me.

Indeed, serious "cardio" -- the elevating of heart rate for long periods of time -- is drawing more and more fire. I know that my trainer friend Fred Hahn considers it a stress, rather than of any benefit, as do Dr. Mary Vernon and Dr. Michael Fox, both of whom have spoken on the Low Carb Cruise. Primal Fitness guru, Mark Sisson, a former competitive runner, now refers scornfully to "chronic cardio," blaming it for years of struggling with his health, despite (or, it appears, because) of being a professional athlete.*

In short, it may be that my childhood heart throb died early because of, rather than in spite of, his "healthy" lifestyle.

Rest in peace, Davy. A generation of women will always love you.

* Please note that these various professionals are speaking of serious cardio -- distance running, elliptical, stair-climber machines, anything designed to get your heart rate up into your "aerobic zone" and keep it there for concerted periods of time. They are not against going for a walk, or a hike, or an evening of dancing, things that fit Sisson's primal exercise directive to move around slowly a great deal. A walk is still better than sitting on the couch staring at the tube.