Close Up: Weekend Warriors

Aging athletes may suffer injuries but experts say the health benefits outweigh the risks

  • May. 4, 2012 1:00 p.m.

Capital News close up discusses benefits and risks of aging athletes

Kelowna masters soccer player Walter Morel wasn’t actually on the field when a teammate of his suffered a heart attack at City Park during a game of over-45 soccer last month.

Morel himself was suffering from an asthma attack and had decided not to play, instead watching from the sidelines so as not to miss out on the social aspect of the weekly game.

But that was when his teammate was struck by a sudden heart attack, dropping on the field in need of emergency assistance.

“I saw him fall out of the corner of my eye,” recalled Morel. “I watched him hit the ground. Luckily we had a first-aid attendant and a doctor on the team and they immediately started doing CPR.”

It would take the arrival of two ambulances and more emergency CPR before life returned to his fallen teammate, who was rushed to hospital and later released back home.

The incident would stick with Morel and the rest of his team for much longer.

“It took me two days to get to sleep,” he said. “I just kept hearing him hit the ground and hearing the air expelling from his lungs when he hit. It gets you thinking. We’re all these weekend warriors and we like to think we’re in shape but the body is telling us something different.”

Morel and the rest of his over-45 soccer teammates are no different than thousands of other masters athletes; those weekend warriors who jump from work or family life into a recreational sport. Most players have suffered injuries along the way. Most of them are more moderate such as muscle strains or general pain and stiffness. More rare is the serious heart attack that struck Morel’s teammate. But health experts say the benefits of continuing to play sports far outweigh the negatives.

“All the science out there shows that exercise is beneficial, especially as you age,” said Randy Goodman of Pinnacle Physiotherapy. “If you look at risk and reward, the reward of being active and involved as you age far outweigh the risk.”

•••

One of the founders of Big White, a former MLA and a well-known man around Kelowna, Cliff Serwa certainly knows the benefits of athletics.

Now 76, Serwa still plays recreational basketball in Kelowna once a week and will play up to three times a week when he vacations in Palm Springs. Recently Serwa started dabbling in a new recreation, jumping on a motorbike and touring around the Okanagan.

“Busy people are happy people I think,” said Serwa, prior to heading out for 18 holes on the golf course. “I like challenges and I enjoy learning something new. The one thing I’ve noticed about people who participate in athletics is you can learn a lot through athletics. You spend thousands of hours trying to improve. Nothing comes easy. You learn about teamwork and the ability to focus.”

During his 10 year stint as an MLA in Victoria, Serwa also used athletics as a way to relieve stress and to make things happen. A member of the Socred party at the time, Serwa took part in regular basketball games at the legislature, featuring members of all political parties including then-premier Mike Harcourt. The NDP at the time were considering a location for a new cancer unit, trying to decide whether it would be located in Kelowna or Kamloops.

Serwa used those basketball games as a way to build relationships and make friends, even in the cutthroat world of B.C. politics. The basketball court became a place where political affiliation was thrown out the window. Serwa made friends with Harcourt and the NDP would bring the cancer clinic to Kelowna.

“The New Democrats made the decision that it would come to Kelowna,” he said. “Part of it was the establishment of my credibility through the friendship we made on the basketball court. They were able to talk to me and I was able to talk to them, not as New Democrats or Socreds but as friends.”

The social aspect of masters athletics might be the single biggest factor in why so many people still take part in adult sports. Ask those folks why they play and the time spent after the game socializing would be at the top of a lot of people’s lists.

But it’s that focus on fun instead of some simple preparation that lands many people in a physio clinic with pulled muscles.

“Part of the problem is you see someone playing a recreational sport and they are late getting there or are running in from work,” said Pinnacle’s Goodman. “They drive into the parking, pull on their shoes and jump into the game right away. Pretty soon they have a blown hamstring.”

Goodman says a simple 10 minute dynamic warm-up to raise your heart rate would alleviate many of the problems weekend warriors run into.

“You’ve been sitting around all day so you need to give your body a chance,” he said. “A lot of injuries are preventable. Make sure you’re hydrated so you don’t get cramps. Make sure you warm up so that you minimize the risk of injuries. If you do get hurt you need to get to someone who knows what they are doing to help you manage the injury as well as possible. The longer you delay the harder it gets to rehab.”

Goodman says serious injuries such as the heart attack suffered in the over-45 soccer league are in the minority, although each year there are serious injuries suffered by masters athletes. But there are many more positive benefits.

“Generally those people who suffer a heart attack during sports were going to have a heart attack anyways,”

said Goodman. “Regular exercise decreases the risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. It decreases the risk of diabetes and obesity which leads to a bunch of other diseases. If you keep active and keep your mind active you are going to see positive effects.”

•••

A couple of weeks after Walter Morel’s teammate was rushed to hospital after collapsing during his team’s over-45 soccer game, his teammate was out of hospital and back on the sidelines, watching his team play.

It was a health scare that sent a ripple effect through many of the players on the team, some of whom were playing on two different soccer teams, both at the over-45 and over-55 level.

“It makes you think,” said Morel. “Some of us were wondering whether we should still exert ourselves. As bad as it was, it was an eye opener.”

Still the draw of being among good friends and getting a good workout is what keeps masters sports going.

“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 10 years-old,” said Morel. “It’s the camaraderie. It’s just part of your life, part of your routine. Then, you know, it’s an excuse to go for a beer after the game. If we didn’t play a lot of us wouldn’t be working out. It’s a good thing.”

Goodman agreed adding that athletes who help themselves will have longer recreational careers.

“Take 10 minutes to warm-up and 10 minutes to cool down,” he said. “You’re standing around talking with people anyhow so why not stretch. I think masters sports is a huge positive to the community. It’s also a thing called enjoyment. It’s way more fun to go out and do something than to sit and watch it on TV.”

Benefits of Hydration

Contrary to what you might think if you observe the actions of sports teams following adult sports, drinking beer is not a proper way to hydrate following athletics.

In fact alcohol will continue the process of dehydration following your sport and could contribute to stiffness and general soreness.

Proper hydration before and after an event is key to the body’s recovery.

So add this routine to your pre and post game activity for better results:

• 2‐3 hours prior to exercise

– Drink 500‐750 ml (2‐3 cups) of fluids

– This allows enough time for fluid to be lost through urine

• 30 minutes before exercise

– Drink 125‐250 ml (1/2‐1 cup)

– There is no benefit to drinking more than this

• During exercise

– Drink 125‐250 ml of cool fluids every 15 minutes

– This is about 5‐10 gulps of fluid

• After exercise

– Drink 2 1/2 cups of fluid for every pound lost during exercise

– This usually means at least 4 cups of fluid

• Quenching thirst does not satisfy the body’s need for fluid

– Thirst is a sign of dehydration

– A small volume of urine dark in color indicates dehydration

• Cool water is best for events 1 hr or less or for light activity

• Beverages with 6 to 8 per cent carbohydrate plus some sodium are beneficial for

moderate to heavy exercise, especially if lasting longer than 1 hour

– Commercial sports drinks are formulated to deliver the proper mix of

carbohydrates and electrolytes

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