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What can the Olympic Games do for you?

By Katherine Aitchison, on 16 July 2012

This summer, the Olympic Games are coming to London (in case you hadn’t heard) and with them a huge focus on sport and exercise throughout the country. But how does this investment in sport affect you average non-sporty person?

That was the question posed to a panel of experts at the UCL Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health Grand Round on 10July entitled Optimising Performance: success for our athletes, health for our nation.

Held as part of UCL’s “Exercise your Brain” programme to tie in with the Olympic Games, the panel included Sir Clive Woodward (Director of Elite Performance, British Olympic Association), Dr Mike Loosemore (Team doctor, Great Britain Olympic boxing) and UCL’s Professor Hugh Montgomery and Professor Mike Grocott.

All of the panellists were there to convince us that investing in sport research can have far-reaching benefits throughout the health industry.

The evidence started in genetic terms: Professor Montgomery talked about variations in a gene called ACE, which were originally shown to affect what sort of activity a person is best suited to but have since been implicated in survival rates of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome – indicating an important area of research to treat those patients most at risk.

We then moved from the genetic to the generic: Dr Loosemore described exercise as a “polypill” and showed a staggering number of statistics that show that physical activity can decrease the risk of heart disease (40%), stroke (27%), breast cancer recurrence (50%), diabetes and raised blood pressure (50%) and Alzheimer’s disease (33%) to name but a few.

In fact, he showed a very linear relationship between amount of exercise and not only age of death but also quality of life.

But it isn’t only biologically speaking that investments in sport can help the rest of the population. Sir Clive Woodward described his model of the champion athlete: a person with talent, yes, but also with the ability and will to learn, someone who is able to cope under extreme pressure and who has the will to succeed.

Everything he said can be taken out of the sport context and applied to your average person whatever their career or intentions in life.

The institute has a wide breadth of research from the genetic aspects covered by Hugh Montgomery to work on adapting to extreme condition such as Mount Everest to where Professor Grocott relocated his lab in order to investigate the body’s response to a low oxygen environment.

Although the main focus of the institute is on high performing athletes, there is a major emphasis on translating this work into benefiting the health of the population as a whole, either through treating illness or by educating the public as to the benefits of sport on the individual.

If this is the case then why is exercise such a difficult sell? According to Dr Loosemore it is partly because the public do not want to exercise and partly because they don’t understand the potential benefits.

So now that you’ve finished reading this article get up, walk away from your computer and do something active even if it’s only a bit of dusting.

Go on.


You’ll thank me in the long run.

Katherine Aitchison is a Second year PhD student at the UCL Institute of Child Health.

Find out more about UCL’s programme of events and exhibitions to mark the Olympics and Paralympics 

Watch the full lecture below:

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