First it was Mr. Big, the character from “Sex in the City,” dying in Carrie Bradshaw’s arms from a heart attack after a 45-minute ride on his Peloton. Then it was Mike “Wags” Wagner, the drug-abusing, sadistic right hand of Axe Capital’s Bobby Axelrod in the Showtime series “Billions,” who too suffers a heart attack after exercising on his elite bike.
Wags, played by esteemed character actor David Costabile, survives. “I’m not going out like Mr. Big,” he declares in his typical cynical style in this season’s opening episode.
The negative publicity caused by the fictional incidents may have some wondering: Is it safe for your heart to exercise intensely?
“The message should be that regular exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy and well and reduce cardiovascular disease. In fact, I call exercise the ‘fountain of youth,'” said cardiologist Dr. Andrew Freeman, the founding co-chair of the nutrition and lifestyle work group at the American College of Cardiology.
“But I tell people it’s always a wise idea to either visit with their primary care doctor or their cardiologist before they begin on any ambitious exercise program — including Peloton, which I would argue is quite ambitious,” Freeman said.
Did Mr. Big, played by actor Chris Noth, get checked out by his doctor before he put the pedal into spin? If he did, that may have altered the outcome of his heart event — but then you could argue that if Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, had called 911 instead of cuddling him while he died, that too might have changed his destiny.
As for Wags? Anyone who parties that hard is a prime candidate for a heart event, on or off a Peloton bike, said Freeman, who is also director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.
“You take someone who is using all sorts of substances and lives a very high-stress life, likely doesn’t exercise regularly or eat well, sometimes bad things are gonna happen,” Freeman said.
“Yes, there can be a slight chance of a heart attack or something bad happening during any kind of intense exertion, but I would argue that there’s significant risk in not exercising,” he added.