Tuesday 27 January 2015

Teens who keep fit will reap benefits in their 50s

Keeping active in your younger years can prevent heart attacks later in life, writes Áilín Quinlan

Sports-mad Sean White is one of just 12pc of post-primary pupils getting regular exercise. Photo by Clare Keogh
Hurler and Gaelic footballer Cian O'Donovan (17). Photo by Clare Keogh

If you're looking for Sean White, it's best to try the gym or the pitch – because most evenings, the teenager is to be found at one or the other.

The 18-year-old plays U-21 football for Cork, and junior and U-21 hurling for his hometown of Clonakilty. His training schedule is proportionately heavy.

During the season he'll train up to six nights a week – and that's on top of playing matches.

"You have to be very fit to stay on the team – there's a lot of competition for places," he explains.

White has been playing sport since childhood. He's one of thousands of adolescents – male and female – for whom physical fitness is part of daily life.

It's a mindset that can bring good long-term benefits, according to new Swedish research.

A study carried out at Umea University has found a link between a person's fitness as a teenager and their risk of heart attack in later life. In a study of nearly 750,000 men, researchers found that the more aerobically fit men were in late adolescence, the less likely they were to have a heart attack in their late 40s or 50s.

Research leader Professor Peter Nordstrom emphasised that the study found it was even better to be both fit and a normal weight.

That's good news for White and others who have been deeply involved in sports since childhood, but he points out there are more immediate benefits to be enjoyed by young people participating in sports.

"Sports is great for helping you to deal with stress and pressure. I played up to two weeks before the Leaving Cert. It gives your head a great break," he says.

"You make a lot of friends and it's very good for your confidence."

It also, he says, teaches some pretty good life skills. "When you're winning, you're motivated to keep going, and winning builds your confidence. But sports also teaches you how to lose and keep going."

Playing competitively also brings awareness of the impact on performance of diet and lifestyle.

"If you eat really bad food and stay out half the night, you won't keep up with the team," he says simply.

Out on the pitch, White can see solid evidence of the long-term lifestyle benefits for those who stay in sport.

"We're training with the senior team – they'd be 36 or 37, or going on 40, and they are very fit people. So it's obviously a lifestyle choice that stays with you."

Unfortunately, teenagers like White, now a first-year Finance student at UCC, and Leaving Cert student Cian O'Donovan (see panel) are probably in the minority given that figures show that just 12pc of post-primary students meet Department of Health recommendations of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

Irish Independent

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