Domhnall MacAuley: Sporting excellence

Domhnall Macauley Sport, medicine and royalty- what an eclectic mix, or maybe not. With some timely encouragement from HRH the Princess Royal, introducing the BMA conference Excellence in Health The Olympic ideal, mainstream medicine is starting to recognise that sport offers some very useful solutions to the growing problems of obesity and associated chronic disease. This conference was, in fact a direct result of a challenge made by HRH to the BMA when she agreed to become President. It was refreshing to hear her continue to prioritise sport and exercise medicine and encourage the BMA to take a central role. She made a very strong case for the development of sport and exercise medicine in the UK and specifically applauded specialist accreditation and its wider potential benefits.

She has always been a great supporter of British Sports medicine, is very well informed and, as a former Olympian, has particular insight. It was also great to see sport and exercise medicine take centre stage at the BMA

For me the highlight was the talk by Gaynor Parfitt with her wonderful insights into factors correlated with children’s activity. There is a very complex relationship weaving links between the environment, self esteem, competence and competition. Young children have global self esteem but these constructs alter and develop with age.

Interestingly, Gaynor suggested that if we could improve activity we might be able to improve self esteem. She also noted one factor, perhaps self evident, that could help encourage school sport in young girls is to allow modern stylish PE kit.

By the mid morning break, we were so brainwashed by the activity gurus that no one had the courage to take the lift- we all trooped dutifully up and down the stairs. Similarly, with all the talk of obesity, it was nice to see fruit snacks available, and not just insulinogenic high calorie cookies.

The programme moved into academic overdrive in the afternoon. An evidence based pot pourri with the usual sprinkling of systematic reviews, cohort and intervention studies. But, sometimes anecdotes and pictures tell a better story. Marion McMurdo, described a widespread outbreak of exercise classes for older people across Scotland.

No restrictions, no screening, and no note required from a GP to say you will not drop dead- and perhaps delay the class. She illustrated this with happy pictures of elderly women smiling broadly at exercise classes. To further make her point in favour of the generic exercise class (as opposed to the traditional route) she asked “Have you ever seen a happy jogger?”

But, the last word came from the floor towards the end of the day following interviews with adventurer Mike Stroud and Olympic Gold medallist Stephanie Cook: “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Domhnall Macauley is Primary Care Editor, BMJ