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Tag Archive: health

  1. An athlete’s guide to avoiding the flu.



      athlete illnessGetting ill sucks! We’ve all been there, tucked up in bed shivering and feeling sorry for ourselves. Here is my guide to avoiding the flu.

    Nobody enjoys being ill and it can have a terrible effect on an athlete’s fitness, training and performance. Not only does having a blocked nose reduce performance, it can also affect teammates, who catch the illness off you.

    If you want to avoid getting the flu, read on.

    How is infection spread?

    The main ways that infections are spread is through touch, food that is not cooked properly (or shared with an infected person) and aerial dispersal.

    The major problem is that people do not need to be showing symptoms of illness to be infectious – they can just be carrying the disease on their skin without becoming ill with it! Think about that when you next shake hands with someone (I’m not saying ‘don’t shake hands; that’s rude, what I do suggest is that you follow the tips down below to reduce your chances of getting ill).

    Additionally, when people cough and sneeze, droplets that can contain contaminants are released into the air. The larger the droplet, the more infection it can contain. However, larger droplets are not airborne for as long as smaller droplets from the sneeze. All of this infection containing moisture can be inhaled by a person nearby or it can land on surfaces that other people touch. (as seen in this NHS advert)

        Viruses can live on surfaces for very long periods of time. This means that you can contract an infection from somebody by touching the area where their sneeze landed hours after they coughed! Think of how many things you touch daily without thinking about it. If you’re reading this on a computer, do you know who touched the keyboard and mouse before you and how clean they were?

    Once the infection is on your hands it has to travel to a place in the body where it can gain entry such as the mouth, nose, eyes or an open wound in the skin. A bad habit such as biting nails makes this transfer of infection almost guaranteed.

    How to reduce the likelihood of infection

    There are some basic things that everyone can do to reduce the likelihood of catching an illness or from passing one onto others.

    • Check that your vaccinations are up to date and get the annual flu vaccination. If your immune system in primed to fight the disease it is much less likely that you will become ill. Some supermarkets and pharmacies now offer flu vaccinations in autumn. I recently had mine done in Boots.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap. Then use a paper towel, your elbows or, if necessary, your sleeves to turn off the tap. Try to avoid touching your face if you haven’t washed your hands first. Use antibacterial alcohol hand wash gel when soap and water are not available. This video shows how to was your hands properly.
    • When in a public place, try not to use your hands to push doors open and instead, open the door with a foot or by leaning gently against it with your shoulder. If you have to pull a door open or turn a handle, try and grasp it at the periphery to avoid making contact with the surface in the same place that everyone else does.
    • If you have to cough or sneeze, catch it in a tissue or direct it towards the crook of your elbow, avoid your hands.
    • After making physical contact with a person or object with which you do not know how clean they are, stop yourself from touching your face until you get the chance to wash your hands.
    • Get a healthy amount of sleep each night and ensure that you are including plenty of vitamins and minerals in your diet to help your immune system.
    • Nasty virus

      Nasty virus

      Avoid sharing things such as pens, food and towels with other people, especially if you know they, or someone close to them, are ill.

    • If someone is sneezing on public transport or in a public area, try and stay behind them so you are out of the direction of their cough mist.
    • In a hotel, ensure that your room has been thoroughly cleaned and that new bedding and towels have been provided.
    • If somebody you know is ill. Stay clear of anything they have touched.
    • Check any medication that you plan to take does not contain prohibited substances. This can easily be done on Global Dro for most products purchased in the UK. That really effective cough medicine is not worth taking to get better if you commit a doping violation in the process.  

    Additional personal tips.

    I find that having a ‘health pack’ in my rucksack that I take everywhere with me. This contains:

    • toothbrush and toothpaste,
    • alcohol based mouthwash,
    • Vicks first defence nasal spray (which is not prohibited at the time of writing this article if the product is from the UK),
    • alcoholic hand wash gel,
    • tissues
    • tub of Vaseline.

    This means that I can keep my hands and mouth clean on the go.

    Carry tissues

    Carry tissues

    I use the nasal spray as a prevention tool in public places and the Vaseline to cover cracked lips. The tissues can be used both to catch sneezes and to dry my hands whilst I find the nasal spray is very useful on public transport when I cannot get away from someone sneezing near me. If you purchase travel versions of these products they will be small enough to be taken on a flight in hand luggage as part of your liquid allowance.

    People’s hands are normally the main cause of infection. If you have the discipline to wash yours thoroughly and regularly then you are much less likely to catch a cold this winter.

    Chris Hay 

    Fencer and aspiring Modern Pentathlete. Biology graduate. Excelsior athlete since 2009.

    Further reading:

  2. How to Prevent Illness by Boosting Your Immune System


    Are you constantly suffering from colds and sniffles? Feeling run down and lethargic? Then it could be that your immune system is depressed. Matt has done some research and come up with some ideas on how to to help you.

    What is the Immune System?

    illness athletes

    Anthrax bacteria being swallowed by immune system

    It is a complicated defence system, made up of biological structures that protect against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. The biological structures, more specifically are made up of many types of proteins, cells, organs and tissues. These all interact in an elaborate and dynamic network. The immune system is considered vitally important because it distinguishes between its own healthy cells and tissues to allow the body to function properly.

    It is the proteins mentioned above that provide immunity to certain pathogens. This immunological memory is created from a primary response to a specific pathogen and thus when the same pathogen is encountered again it is over powered. This immunity can also be acquired due to vaccinations, which is the way many children will perceive immunity.

    What can go wrong? 

    However there is potential for disorders of the immune system, these include autoimmune, inflammatory diseases and cancer. These diseases can be caused by the immune system either being over or inactive, and it attacks itself, it can also be caused by genetic disorders. These can lead to diseases, for example AIDS.

     How Does the Immune System Work?

    Research has been said to show that it works reciprocally with the central nervous system (CNS). These work together to sense danger in various forms and provide the most adequate form of response. In accordance with the CNS, of which a brain is a part, the brain actually is said to act as a regulator, participating in immune response.

    There has also been much research in to the ‘crosstalk’ between the immune system and the endocrine system. This basically means that at a molecular level there is much more interaction between cells, that was previously unknown. In terms of what this means for athletes, it means that the immune system can be affected at a very minute level and thus what you eat, exercise and the amount of sleep you get has even more effect than previously thought.

    immune system booster

    Greek Soldier

    (This has been common knowledge for thousands of years, Plato describes it in the Republic: When considering the training of warriors (or Guardians of the Republic) Plato didn’t want them to train like athletes because;

    It’s a sluggish condition, and makes health precarious. Can’t you see how these athletes spend their lives sleeping and only need to deviate a tiny bit from their prescribed regimen to come down with serious and severe illness?

    Of little use to combat troops who could be asked to fight at a moment’s notice. Interesting that Plato spotted that athletes had depressed immune systems and were vulnerable to illness.

     Diet and Sleep are key to being healthy.

    Sleep is considered very important for athletes, thus the more sleep an athlete gets the more immune to disease they are, according to research. However it must be stated that if you slept all day every day, not that students would even consider this, it can have the adverse effect. A mix of between six and eight hours a night and a good training regime and diet will all help.

    It is very often in the run up to a big event that an athlete can get stressed and thus cause an illness because they cannot sleep or in some instances eat. This is where an immune system boast may be important. Instead of carrying on with daily activities it may be of benefit to wrap up warmer when going outside, maintaining vitamin intake by eating fresh fruit and vegetables and going to bed earlier, in order to get rest, even if you are not sleeping for as long.

    There has been research into the taking of vitamins and this is said to help but even with the ‘all in ones’ there are still limitations. By increasing your vitamin C intake and vegetable eating your immune system will improve and allow your normal daily routines to continue.

    Overall it is important to maintain immunity and thus allow your body to prepare in the best way for an event. If there are any problems regarding getting ill before an event it is best to consult a doctor.

    I hope this has been useful and any comments or feedback are greatly appreciated.

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