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Varsity Sports Keep The Doctor Away

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Young men who want to avoid going to the doctor later in life should take up a high school sport, according to a new study published earlier this month in the journal BMC Public Health.

In the study, a team of Swiss and American researchers found that men who played varsity high school sports were more likely to be active into their late 70s and less likely to have to visit their doctors. Although the study only considered male World War II veterans from the US, the researchers said their study is the first to take a long-term view of how childhood exercise relates to long-term health.

The team tracked the health of over 700 World War II veterans who had passed a rigorous physical exam as part of their entrance into military service. The men were surveyed 50 years after their initial exam at average of 78 years. The team found that those who had played a varsity sport in the 1930s or early 1940s said they visited their doctor fewer times a year than those who did not play a sport.

At the time of their military exam, 47 percent of the American population had been excluded due to malnutrition, physical issues or illiteracy, making those who made the cut the most physically fit in that society.

In 2000, the men in the study received a questionnaire that asked them about their level of education, the population of the towns they were raised in, how much they smoked after the war, and if they played high school varsity sports. Another survey asked the men how often they walked for exercise, hunted, fished, golfed and played other sports. They were also asked how often they saw their doctor in the past year.

In addition to finding that the aging varsity athletes visited their doctors less frequently, the researchers also discovered a strong connection between those who played high school sports and not smoking.

In their report, the researchers suggested that “school-based organized sports … be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels” and better health.

The researchers added that “relatively vigorous exercise and physical education classes could be promoted across grade levels (and) they need not concentrate on competition but rather on enjoyment.”

The study’s conclusion echoes the principles of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. The first lady’s program has been calling for the inclusion of regular physical activity during the typical American’s day, particularly for young children and teenagers.

“Children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight,” reads a statement on the campaign website. “If this sounds like a lot, consider that eight to 18 year old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies in a typical day, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.”

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