Monday, October 15, 2012

We’re All Athletes

Dane Glueck, MD
October 2012

One of the definitions I found for athlete:  a person who has a natural aptitude for physical activities. 

Here’s the thing -- we all have a natural aptitude for physical activities.  We all utilize our bodies to accomplish tasks.  Here’s the problem – we’ve abdicated permission to train our bodies and to perform at a higher level to a select few – to “athletes”.  I believe that we all should reclaim the title of athlete.  This should include the fourteen-year-old basketball player, the forty-year-old mother of three working second shift, the fifty-year-old electrician, and the seventy-year old grandmother. 

Ultimately, all of our bodies respond to training.  Our muscles grow and our bones strengthen as we apply force across them.  This is true whether someone increases our bench press from 250 to 300 pounds or increases their walking program from one mile to two miles every other day.   Of course, any significant increase in activity should be in moderation with a gradual program to prevent undue stress and steadily improve function.  Importantly, training improvements aren’t limited to just the young.  Studies have shown an increase in muscle mass and strength in patients as old as 90 years.1

I think it’s likely that Rick Hoyt, unable to walk due to cerebral palsy, considers himself an athlete.  Rick, and his father, Dick, have completed over 1,000 races together – including marathons and triathlons.  Dick provides the muscle power that moves them forward together. A quote from their website ( quotes Rick after their first race where Dick pushed Rick’s wheelchair, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

Rick’s spirit propels himself forward when his legs can’t.  His father’s heart and legs propels them both forward.  While neither fits the standard criteria of an athlete that plays on Sunday afternoons or makes history in October, they certainly have the hearts, minds, and bodies of athletes in the greatest sense of the word.  Surely, the rest of us can emulate their behavior to become our best athlete.  In doing so we’ll find better health, and, our natural aptitude for physical activities.

1.  Fiatarone MA, Marks EC, Ryan ND, Meredith CN, Lipsitz LA, Evans WJ:  High-intensity strength training in nonagenarians:  Effects on skeletal muscle.  JAMA 1990;263(22):3029-3034.

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