Blog Christchurch Marathon 2018: Marathon # 84

Christchurch Marathon 2018:
Marathon # 84

June 03, 2018

As much as I like participating in my home town marathon, the chances of favourable weather conditions aren’t great in Christchurch during winter. So when I wake up and it is dark, cold, and wet; it can be difficult to get out of bed yet alone leave the front door. Getting to the start line continues to be the hardest part of any race. Unfortunately, life does not make exercise easy as the human body is hard wired to be fat, warm, and comfortable. This is a throwback from thousands of years ago when famine was more common than feast. However, times have changed and feast is now more common than famine. Our current world is automated and comfort reigns. Life styles have changed accordingly and we are exercising less. Those who are unfit and sedentary invariably develop premature chronic disease (e.g. obesity, diabetes, hypertension) and die at a younger age. Conversely, those who are active, live healthier and longer lives. Exercise is arguably the best drug we have against chronic disease but we need to exercise enough for exercise to be therapeutic. As a Sport & Exercise Doctor, my job is to prescribe exercise. However, to do this successfully, sometimes I must practise medicine beyond my own office walls. By making my own start lines, I can truly practise what I preach.

Taking my medicine with others at Hagley Park

We still have a long way to go but it’s promising to see that a few medical clinics recognise exercise as a “vital sign”. Vital signs are the body’s life sustaining functions that have been routinely measured by doctors for years. These include body temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and weight. There is a growing chorus from exercise medicine practitioners to add physical activity to these other well established vital signs. However, this breaks with medical tradition as unlike other vital signs which measure a body part, asking about physical activity levels measures behaviour. And changing behaviour can be complex. Currently, most doctors do not ask their patients ‘how often’ or ‘how long’ they exercise. Consequently, not many doctors know how to prescribe exercise. It’s also been shown that doctors who do not exercise (which is increasing like the rest of the general population) are unlikely to promote the benefits of exercise themselves. As a result, not many patients know that low fitness kills more people in the USA than smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined. That’s right, combine your three biggest presumed killers and low fitness still trumps them all. Low fitness kills eight times as many people as obesity. Therefore, someone who is fit and fat will live a longer and healthier life than someone who is genetically skinny and doesn’t exercise. Low fitness kills twice as many people as smoking. Yet we continue to direct most of our focus towards stopping smoking rather than educating people about making exercise a healthy lifestyle choice. If all smokers were non-smokers, we’d save 8 lives per 100 people. However, if all inactive people were getting 150 minutes of physical activity per week (which is equal to 30 mins five times a week), we’d save 16 lives per 100 people. In the 21st century, low fitness is the silent killer. We cannot stay silent about this for any longer. We must spread the word – Exercise is medicine.

Approaching the finish line at the Cathedral Square

The Christchurch Marathon starts at the Cathedral Square and passes through the CBD. It then goes through Hagley Park and follows the Avon River for a while. Runners are then taken through earthquake red zoned suburbs. Much of the inner city landscape has changed since the damaging 2011 Christchurch earthquake. My favourite part of the whole marathon is easily the segment through Hagley Park away from all this havoc. The old oak trees and weeping willows along the Avon River provide comforting familiarity amongst all this destruction. This connection with nature is soothing and relaxing. In contrast, the second half of the marathon is less appealing. The course goes through the desolate red zone and support is minimal. The rain also just happens to pick up and it gets colder. Unpalatable as it is, I know that I need to keep taking my medicine. Not all medicine tastes good but I appreciate this medicine is good for me. Three hours and 47 minutes later, I cross the finish line at the Cathedral Square. Exercise minutes successfully banked for the week and monthly health insurance premium paid in full. If sweat is the currency of health, then regular exercise is the best health insurance policy you could ever take out. Make an investment in your health today. Exercise is medicine. Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, the Taupo Ultramarathon 100km in October (I’m having a rest from marathon running for a while).

Cold and wet at the finish line but happy

The greatest medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it.

Hippocrates (Greek physician 460-370BC)