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Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Running with the 3Hs--Maximizing Performance and Minimizing Short-Term Health Risks (Part 2)
For many Olympic endurance athletes who have prepared for years striving for medals and world-record times, Beijing's air pollution may present three vastly underrated competitors far tougher than any other athlete.

Their names: The "3Hs"--Haze, Heat and Humidity. On their own or collectively, they can prevent the kind of superior performance an elite athlete has worked so hard to create for the world's greatest multi-sport event. Plus present some short-term health risks.

Beijing's "3H" days are typically ones for which there are health advisories against outdoor exertion, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory conditions, heart disease, as well as the very young and elderly. It's definitely worth mentioning, that, as a matter of standard practice, pulmonologists would strongly emphasize that even "mere mortals" avoid any strenuous outside activities during these types of days.

Okay, most aspiring Olympians didn't spend the last four years complaining about the polluted environment they would face, they trained hard to bring their greatest performances and compete with the world's best.

So here's what Olympians need to know about maximizing performance and minimizing short-term health risks in Beijing:

1. Approximately one of four or five elite athletes have exercise-induced asthma. Anyone who has the least bit of concern about occasional breathing difficulty or cough during or soon after exertion should get checked out PRONTO. Since use of many asthma medications is closely regulated under the strict IOC anti-doping regulations, medical documentation of exercise-induced asthma must be completed prior to arrival in Beijing. Ditto for a therapeutic use exemption.

2. It's critical that an athlete with asthma have the condition under excellent control before arriving in Beijing. A careful review and tweak of the individualized treatment plan in partnership with a pulmonologist (lung doctor) or asthma specialist can be accomplished in quick order. Most importantly, the athlete should also have a contingency asthma plan ready to put into effect should air quality begin to trigger asthma symptoms.

3. Athletes should train in non- or less polluted areas, for example, Japan or South Korea, prior to the event. This action protects the lungs and airways from unneccessary irritation and inflammation, as well as a decline in lung function that occurs with exposure to pollution.

4. From the time athletes arrive in Beijing, they should utilize a high-tech activated carbon filtration mask that filters out a minimum of 80% of the main air pollutants. Utilize it until just prior to the event.

5. Olympians should maintain a well-balanced diet but immediately begin to incorporate foods rich in anti-oxidants (i.e., fish oil, fatty fish) and Vitamins C (i.e., fruits and vegetables) and Vitamin E (i.e., nuts, if not allergic). The objective: protect against some of the airway inflammation triggered by inhaling the hazy, polluted air.

6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Does this exhortation bear repeating under the circumstances? OK, so hydrate! The excessive heat (greater than 90 degrees) and humidity (greater than 95%) in Beijing at this time of year sets the stage for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Ditto for sporting event spectators and attendees!

And while the Chinese authorities appear to be diligently applying an extra-strength series of "clean air" temporary bandaids in time for the Olympic Games, they are clearly offered in the face of long-term environmental challenges facing a rapidly growing, newly industrialized nation. Thus far, the Chinese have spent more than 17 billion dollars in an effort to decrease air pollution. In advance of opening ceremonies, they plan to halve the more than 3 million cars normally on the road, toughen car emission standards, regulate the opening and closing times of gas stations and shut down factories and major construction sites.

Despite these best laid plans, the problem remains that Olympic athletes cannot train for pollution. So what should the mantra in the interim become for the Olympic athlete with asthma? Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst... to maximize performance, minimize risk.

READ THE OTHER BLOGS IN THIS SERIES

Part 1 - To Breathe Or Not To Breathe In the Beijing Olympics, That Is The Question

Part 3 - No Particulate Place To Go: Why the Air is So (Ob)Noxious in Beijing
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 in Blogs & Articles | Permalink | E-Mail
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