“Sport, Exercise and Health in the Age of Coronavirus”: - The Real Science of Sport Podcast
Posted: Tue, 14 Apr 2020 12:02
With all the enforced extra time spent at home, many will be revisiting old sources of entertainment and discovering new ones. Podcasts are ubiquitous, including ones on sport, but for those interested in sport science, one of the best is The Real Science of Sport Podcast hosted by Mike Finch and Professor Ross Tucker.
The most recent episode covers topics of special interest in these unprecedented times, including reflections on the immediate future for elite sporting events, as well as the health implications of lockdown and confinement for both athletes and non-athlete members of the population.
Recent speculation has been rife on the subject of how sport will look after the first wave of Covid-19, with some suggesting that sport could change on a fundamental level for a long time, perhaps even permanently.
High-level sports are exploring the possibility of holding future events in a state of physical isolation, or "cling-wrapped" as Finch and Professor Tucker describe it, with no spectators and strict testing policy for participants. Any breaches in the biological security however could have dire consequences for those infected as a result, but also for the reputation of the event in question, sport and the sector in general.
As Professor Tucker points out, the typical environment and lifestyles of many athletes are as conducive as any to the transmission of infections: a high volume of travel; air-conditioned spaces; regular and close proximity with others; sharing equipment etc., so how feasible is it that such "bubbles" can be kept secure?
The discussion later turns to the more indirect health effects on populations in various states of lockdown. Professor Tucker cites medical studies from which it's known that over-exercising and extreme training can make a person more vulnerable to infection, but the good news is that for those who do train regularly even a greatly reduced training regimen can significantly mitigate the loss of fitness levels.
For athletes both professional and amateur however this is a time to prioritise health over performance. Above all, it is emphasised that regardless of whether a person has access to public spaces, a garden or only their indoor living space, regular physical activity for anyone greatly improves the effectiveness of the immune system and helps prevent illness.
This is of course no reason for complacency about self-isolation or social distancing as it is clear that everyone must play their part in minimising the spread of this virus and its consequences, regardless of how fit or healthy they are.
The greatest benefit of regular physical activity right now may be to alleviate the psychological stress of confinement and isolation, a particlular issue for those in a strict lockdown, and something the full impact of which may not be known for some time. While the UK population is allowed out on to the streets and into parks and public spaces for the time-being, only the spread of the virus over the next few days and weeks dictates if this will change. In the meantime the debate over the respective value of flattening the curve and guarding the mental health of the population will continue.
While an in-depth debate about any change in the role of sport and physical activity post-corona is beyond the scope of this particular podcast, in the longer term discussions like this one serve to highlight the importance of physical activity in managing public health. The full podcast can be found at: https://play.acast.com/s/realscienceofsport/57d0bbd0-c506-43f4-b9aa-8c17042ba648
Luke Regan is Researcher for The Sports Think Tank