Well the greatest show on earth is over, and we can now reflect on what lessons we can take from the spectacle. Part of the pleasure of watching these recent Olympics, was seeing the lean and muscular bodies of the competitors, honed to perfection. This is not the same as ‘perving’ over the bodies of glamour models or porn stars. You know that these athletes’ bodies are the products of years of hard training, not the quick fix of tummy tucks, liposuction, and silicone implants that so much of the rest of the population are prepared to resort to in the pursuit of perfection.
In support of the US Olympic team, in July the UK was visited by first lady Michelle Obama and former Olympic champion Carl Lewis. Mrs Obama has been vocal in her attempts to encourage healthy eating and reduce obesity in the US. But despite the svelte example set by the POTUS and the First Lady, reducing America’s skyrocketing obesity levels looks like a ‘mission impossible’ that would make Tom Cruise think twice! For though they might lead the world in Gold medal winning Olympians, they also lead the world in fatsos!
Obesity levels in the US have increased faster than any other nation on earth, now at around 35% of the population. And just as in the Olympics medal table, the UK are not far behind, with about 25% of the UK population being classified as obese. Projections are that by 2050 60% of men and 50% of women will be in this category. The contrast between the super-fit athletes and the couch potato general public grows ever more stark.
As part of my background reading in preparation for this year’s Olympics I came across the story of Andy Cougan. Mr Logan was nominated by multiple Gold medal winner Sir Chris Hoy to carry the Olympic torch through Dundee back in June. Logan was one of Scotland’s brightest athletes in the 1930s but his career was cut short by the Second World War. Fighting in the Far East he was captured by the Japanese and held in various prisoner of war camps for nearly four years, where he was forced to do hard labour and nearly died from Malaria. When he returned to Glasgow in 1945 he weighed less than 7 stone, and was never again able to compete at the highest level, although he did resume running just for the love of the sport. Despite his physical hardships this man was still fit enough to carry the Olympic torch at the age of 95.
Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Cougan
It also made me think of Nelson Mandela. He suffered in prison for 27 years, and he too did his share of hard labour in a lime quarry, and yet he still alive to see the age of 94. It got me thinking, maybe there is a link between a life of hard work and relative deprivation and longevity.
On Monday August 6th the BBC’s Horizon series hosted an edition entitled Eat, Fast and Live Longer. The basic thrust of the programme was that survival on a minimal diet can actually help you live longer. According to the programme’s host Michael Mosely “calorie restriction is the only thing that’s ever really been shown to prolong life.” Experiments on a variety of species, among them fish, rodents and dogs, have shown that calorie restriction appears to increase both median and maximum life span. Animals fed very low calorie diets and found to be the thinnest (without being medically underweight or malnourished) were the healthiest and lived the longest.
Another remarkable OAP who carried the Olympic torch this year, who was also featured in the programme was veteran marathon runner Fauja Singh. He is 5ft 8in, weighs just over 8 stone, and survives on a calorie-light, vegetable and plant based diet. Clocking in at 101 years old it is obviously a diet that works well for him.
Not only does the highly calorific western diet shorten our lives, but it has been found that sugar also makes us look older. Research has shown that a diet high in sugar and high glycaemic carbohydrates, such as breads, rice, potatoes and baked goods, can create a chemical reaction that makes skin more stiff and inflexible, leading to premature ageing. It all makes McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics look all the more out of place.
One of the challenges facing the organisers of the Games is to create a ‘legacy’. Part of the problem is that there is such a large disconnect between the pizza and burger guzzling couch potatoes who watch the Olympics from their sofas, and the hardcore dedicated athletes who train to compete. But you don’t need to have a chance of competing in Rio in 2016 in order to be inspired by the efforts of our Olympians. Despite what advertisers would have us believe, you don’t have to spend money on the latest new gadget, or scientific discovery, to achieve health and longevity. What our bodies really need is for us to go back to basics and behave in the way in tune with how our bodies evolved over thousands of years.
Here are some life lesson and health tips that we can all take from the Olympics.
- ‘Llow the McDonalds. Put down the burgers and the chicken Mc Nuggets – eat more fruit and veg.
- Despite what the sponsors would have you believe, you don’t need the Powerade, and Lucozade, unless you’re running a marathon or triathlon. Water is all you need to keep you hydrated. And not even the expensive bottled variety. What comes out of the tap in this country is just fine.
- Forget cosmetic surgery.The number of women who have paid the ultimate price for their vanity, and died during or after cosmetic surgery continues to grow each year. Just this year a Black British woman died after having silicone injected into her buttocks trying to get the Beyonce booty, and scores of British women were running to their doctors to have their sub-standard breast implants removed. Ladies – rather than using silicone, botox, collagen, liposuction, tummy tucks and gastric bands to maintain your looks, try swimming, yoga, pilates, salsa, zumba and spin classes.4.Switch off the X-box. Forget playing Fifa 12, WWF Smackdown, UFC Undisputed, and NBA jams on a console. Get out and do it in real life. Not only is it good for your health but will improve your social life.
5.Persistance overcomes resistance, adversity can make you or break you so don’t give up – Mo Farah failed to qualify for the 5,000m final in Beijing four years ago, before winning Gold in London. Jessica Ennis could not compete in the Beijing Olympics because of an ankle injury. Rower Katherine Grainger had to settle for silver in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008, before winning gold at London 2012. You can’t fail until you quit.
So rather than just enjoying the two weeks or Olympic spectacle, and then just going back to life as normal, trying taking inspiration from the example of these super-athletes, to make positive changes in your own life.