Sarah Bradbury: Riding Away the Hours...

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Sarah Bradbury considers dental professionals and sport in 2020

2020 will be remembered as a significant year for each of us, and that can be in positive or negative ways; shock, worry and uncertainly but also for many unexpected space and time. When lockdown was suddenly thrust upon us, allowing a maximum of an hour of outdoor exercise a day, many of us suddenly found we didn’t need a dog or child as a reason to go for a walk.

People started exploring their local area on foot or by bike, with family members or on their own... although the sale of puppies has also gone through the roof. The Kennel Club said that puppy enquiries increased by 140% this April compared to last, with four or five enquiries received a day compared to only two a month last year.

Breeders have also reported waiting lists for puppies increasing from around 100 to 400 people. The RSPCA reported a 600% increase in visits to its dog fostering pages, creating concern about the welfare of animals, with an increase in puppy farming trying to fulfil this demand, and the number of puppies being imported from abroad more than doubling.

Sport England noted the lockdown restrictions started with people too worried to leave their homes but then eased, from 60% having reservations in the first couple of weeks to 47% six weeks in. With people walking for exercise up from 59% in the first week to 63% by the sixth, and cycling from 8% to 13%. 45% of people on average kept active at home as well, using online exercise classes or just dancing around the living room.

This change in behaviour was supported by the national bike association, who stated that at the start of lockdown, bike sales were down by 4% in value and 8% in numbers compared to 2019. However, once we hit April, sales of bikes in the range of £400 to £1,000 more than doubled, eventually rising by 112% in number and 99% in value compared to April last year.

Benefits of sport and exercise

We all know the benefits of regular exercise, although there are debates and changes in guidance as to whether we get longer-term benefit from short bursts of intense activity, like a high intensity session, or from longer, more leisurely pursuits such as walking. The physical activity guidelines from the NHS for adults aged 19 to 64 is to do some form of physical activity every day.

This should include strengthening activities that work all the major muscles at least twice a week, and at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week while reducing time spent sitting or lying down by breaking up long periods of not moving, although this can prove difficult for a dentist.

The NHS state that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers by up to 50%, plus you can also lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

On top of that, research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Which sport or exercise is the best for you?

Some of us exercise to keep fit, healthy and flexible, others to maintain their weight or for stress relief. Some exercise for pure pleasure, team camaraderie, competition or the physical challenge. Your motives will determine what you do; is it more appropriate for you to join a spin class or a gym workout, enjoy the outdoors with a cycle, horse ride or hike, or is it about exploring, whether by ski, sail or SCUBA diving?

Whatever we choose will obviously be influenced at the moment by the requirements of social distancing and travel restrictions, although for dental professionals there may be some additional considerations.

Dental professionals and sports

As a dentist, you may be more cautious about undertaking potentially dangerous leisure and sporting activities, such as rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing or horse riding. You may also have decided not to participate at a more competitive level because of the risk of injury, and the impact that could have on your everyday working life, with the potential for time away from practice where you could de-skill and lose income.

Yet, Dentists’ Provident has member dentists who undertake a variety of sports and leisure activities on a regular basis including skiing and snowboarding, cross-country, trekking, golf, cycling, martial arts, horse riding and SCUBA diving.

As well as sailing and other water-based activities, holding a variety of qualifications, including a range from the Royal Yachting Association and National Level Coaches, there is evidence that some dentists do risk a slightly higher level of competition in their sports.

In 2019 Dentists’ Provident received claims of over £75,000 for cycling related incidents and accidents. For snow related claims it was over £25,000, over £13,000 for walking, hiking, or running, over £2,000 for horse riding, and over £26,000 for team and racquet sport injuries.

Injury prevention

Being knowledgeable, experienced and well trained, and using the correct equipment and techniques, could all help minimise injury, however you can never guarantee that your horse won’t ‘spook’ and you’ll fall off awkwardly, your jib sheet won’t swing round too fast and hit you or that you won’t take an unexpected tumble on the slopes.

Sports injury experts indicate that increased flexibility can however help reduce the possibility of injury, so it may be prudent to factor in preventive exercises to improve your flexibility, such as stretching, Pilates or yoga.

Sports injuries are broadly classified into either traumatic/acute injuries or overuse injuries. Traumatic injuries account for most injuries in contact sports, such as bruises, fractures and head injuries, whereas overuse injuries tend to include repetitive action muscle strains.

But, according to the National Sports Medicine Institute (NSMI), the most common cause of a sports injury is ‘the failure to warm-up sufficiently before beginning strenuous activity.’ It is also just as important to cool down the muscles after any activity to return your heart rate back to normal.

The future on foot?

The better we all look after our health and wellbeing, the more we can hope to get the most out of life. Exercise and physical activity can play a crucial role in how you feel about yourself, your health and well-being, but it may be wise to start slowly. Checking with a medical professional and carefully preparing for your chosen sport can reduce unnecessary risk that may otherwise negatively impact your career.

As a result of the pandemic, far more people are likely to be cycling or walking to avoid public transport, supported by the government’s plans to boost greener, active transport. The plan, launched in May, is set to provide pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors as part of a £2 billion investment.

So perhaps the pandemic has given rise to a healthier future, it will be interesting to see how things change as we go into winter. You may be missing sailing, diving or skiing due to travel restrictions and are likely to be rusty when you start again, or you may have developed a love for the downhill speed of your new road bike or the freedom of running off-road.

Whatever your sport and circumstances, it is worth remembering that the more you do to be cautious and prevent injuries the greater the chances of avoiding being off work for periods beyond lockdown.

Photos by Roberto Nickson, Bruce Mars, Dmitrii Vaccinium, Kalen Emsley, and Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash