Watching the Olympics this summer has been a wonderfully guilty pleasure. Between the various levels of drama about what Ryan Lochte’s mom may have meant about his social life , unnecessary discussions about Olympic Gold All-Round Women Gymnasts champion Gabby Douglas’s hair and concerns about whether the US Women’s Swimming Team smiles too much (sorry we’re only getting US coverage over here — what else is new.) there are relevant discussions about exercise, health and motivation. As a physician in training my curiosity about these topics extends not only to my own health but to the health of my patients. I wonder constantly how I can help motivate for better health. I recently finished a month long clinical rotation in outpatient specialty clinics where in 30min-1hr sessions we ran through the list of medical problems for each patient. We checked through their labs and imaging scans. Somehow, we still found time to counsel and motivate them to do what they could do on their own as we did what we could on our end.
The question, however, is always to what extent? In David Jones, MD, PhD’s perspective article published in the New England Journal Of Medicine last week, he takes on the challenge of understanding training and health at the Olympics. His article is an interesting historic account of the Olympics and the technology of athleticism that has worked behind the scenes.
All at once I believe that whether or not we can prove that the famed world athletes are substantially healthier than those who work out enough to keep in shape there are good stories to be shared about working hard and having health benefited simultaneously. We all know that exercise can scare off the likes of high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. Research also has shown that it can improve cognition and decrease rates of depression.
The irony, however, is that in cheering on the top world athletes, many of us are sitting behind our TVs and computers (what other way is there?). Some of us are lucky enough to be sitting in the arenas where these sporting events are happening live. It’d be interesting to see if there is a surge in gym memberships, increase in health maintenance doctors appointments or general change in public attitudes towards health after an event like the Olympics. Are these Olympians so far fetched athletes that we feel defeated before we even hit the off button? Or are their triumphs in health enough motivation to get us off the couch and out training for our own (albeit less intense) goals?