Sports Science: For Athletes and Non-athletes Alike

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I love the science of sports and performance.  Closely following the constantly-evolving body of literature on the topic is a vocational interest of mine, but I’ve been asked how pertinent this is to “the rest of us”.  For people like me, who are far from elite in our athletic pursuits, is this information worthwhile?  What about for the sedentary; should they be interested in the science of human performance when it comes to informing their health behaviors?  I would say, resoundingly, YES!  Let me tell you why.

In many developed countries, the medical specialty which we in the US call “Primary Care Sports Medicine” is actually referred to as “Sport and Exercise Medicine”.  Their concept of this specialty includes a focus on nutrition, sports performance, and exercise as a medical intervention.  This is certainly becoming more mainstream in American practice as well, but we lag behind other countries in this regard.  I consider myself a practitioner of Sport and Exercise Medicine.  I am fascinated by musculoskeletal injuries and their therapeutic treatment, primarily non-surgical.  But I also consider nutrition, and exercise to be paramount to the health and performance of any individual at any level of activity.

The exercise and sports performance literature teaches us what is required for a human body to function optimally.  It lets us determine the conditions and practices which allow us all to reach our goals.  For some, these goals are Olympic podiums, but that is a rare few.  This body of literature also tells us how we can ensure that we are able to excel at our daily tasks and maintain long-term health.  Much of exercise science is rooted in the prevention of disease and the maintenance of ideal bodily and cellular function.  These are the perhaps the most pressing health issue of our time.  Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, hormone imbalances, dementias, and many cancers can be linked directly to lifestyles which impair our performance at a cellular level.  Sport and exercise science gives us the tools to address these dysfunctions, even reversing many of these diseases.

For a great example of this, look at the Washington Post’s fantastic article on the work the respected physiologist Inigo San Millan is doing at the University of Colorado.  Using tools which have been traditionally confined to Olympic Training facilities (VO2 and Lactate measurement), he is helping non-elite individuals improve their metabolic and mitochondrial function.  Interestingly, and quite related, Inigo and George Brooks have also recently published their “Lactogenesis Theory” regarding how impaired lactate metabolism may be a causative factor in many cancers.  If the mitochondria in the cells are not working well, disease states ensue.  Properly prescribed exercise is perhaps the most potent therapy for addressing such dysfunction.

When we understand what is needed for a body to function at its best and how to test those variables, we can then apply the same performance science to individuals whose goals may be a bit different.  Sure, an athlete must ensure that everything is optimized if they hope to stand atop the Tour de France podium.  But, you can certainly argue that juggling the challenges inherent to the daily life of a non-athlete is quite rigorous in its own regard.  Stressors come in all forms, not just long training sessions.  Knowing how and why you need to exercise, which diet supports your daily activities, and how you need to balance stress and recovery…these things lead to a life with greater vitality, much lower risk of chronic disease, and improved sense of general wellbeing.  If we can “steal” that from the athletically elite and apply it to our own lives, why wouldn’t we?  That’s one of the primary reasons that I practice Sport and Exercise Medicine.

To learn how sport and exercise science can be applied to help you be successful in your journey toward better health and performance, contact Podium today!  As always, we offer FREE 15-minute consultations with Dr. Sprouse to discuss whether our practice could be a good fit for you.

Kevin Sprouse