Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Degradations of Time Among the Static Crowd

I have played squash for a little over 30 years. I've made it a central element of my existence. It's one of the things I do, reliably. It burns off the detritus of life and allows me to function. 

Every now and again I'm struck how others in this world have not made exercise -- any variety, not just squash -- part of their life, and as I get older I'm beginning to see the effects of their nonathletic lives. I know people at work, in my community, friends of friends, who are my age or less and they seem to me very much older. They look older, they move older, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they think older. Invariably those people are the ones whose idea of sport is a bag of chips and the telly tuned to the weekly football game.

I know this sounds self-congratulatory, and I guess in a small way it is, but it has become increasingly obvious that the 'exercise effect' is medical fact. A recent study comparing exercisers to non-exercisers in The Lancet was notable for its sheer size. Researchers in Taiwan followed 416,175 men and women (in about equal numbers) with an average followup of over 8 years. They looked at weekly exercise rates and placed the participants in 5 exercise categories, from very high exercisers to those who did absolutely no exercise. 

Among their findings was this: that those who were in the 'very low exercise group', meaning they exercised an average of 15 minutes a day, had a 14% reduction in mortality compared with the non-exercise group, and -- astonishingly -- enjoyed a 3-year longer life expectancy. So for just 15 minutes a day you win 3 years over the couch potatoes. That's amazing. Benefits increase as exercise increases, so all you squashists out there should feel damn good about your health.

A highly demanding cardiovascular sport like squash does carry a small risk of a cardiovascular event occurring during play. It happens from time to time. I think all squash clubs should do what schools in the US are doing. In the US, about 100 athletes will die annually from sudden heart failure. That ends up being a 1 in 40,000 chance, so not much, but the chance is there. Clubs should have automated external defibrillators readily available and either staff or coaches should be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's not hard and could save a life.

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