A different kind of sports medicine

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in the name of sport. Two nights ago, I added mild hypothermia to the list.

I ran a hard track workout with the Queen’s ski team and didn’t bother changing into dry clothes for the chilly walk home. I walked in the door, threw off my tights and long underwear and hopped into a hot shower. It must have triggered some weird biochemical response, because as soon as I left the shower, I started shivering so uncontrollably that within minutes I was huddled in bed in a sweatshirt and three blankets.

It took me an hour to warm up enough to hold tea without spilling it. Then I felt so brain-dead I just had to watch TV for another hour. So much for my plan to devote that evening to course readings.

It might be foolhardy of me to be on the ski team at all this year. I gave up coaching it in favour of running this newspaper, which eats time the way overtrained marathon runners eat pasta—particularly now that we’re working hard to raise our student fee.

I’m a full-time student with a full-time job, yet I can’t seem to tear myself away from the student-athlete life, whatever demands it may place on my body, mind or schedule.

Luckily, the physiology research out there suggests I’m not as crazy as I thought. Instead of being dumb, the athletic streak that drives me to hypothermia may actually produce some kind of intelligence.

In middle school my classmates and I were always told playing sports would improve our time management skills and motivate us to work effectively, thus making us better students.

Apparently, though, it goes deeper than that. According to Psychology Today, athletes have denser networks of brain cells than sedentary people, which actually makes it easier to for them to process information. An exercise-triggered protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) appears to be responsible.

Studies on rats found the ones with elevated levels of the protein were better able to complete mazes, while research on human adults found active people were better at organizing tasks and paying attention.

I don’t know about the “paying attention” part. But I’m hoping the “processing information” part means that if I do all the readings for my Friday 8:30 and try to absorb the lectures between bouts of napping, the fact that I didn’t actually study for the mid-term won’t be reflected in my mark. Probably wishful thinking, I know.

Nonetheless, student-athletes like me may be just the right kind of chemical freaks. It confirms what I’ve always known: that I can’t function properly if I can’t get outside and play most days of the week. I suspect it’s that way for a lot of Queen’s athletes, many of whom are currently gearing up for OUA championships amid piles of mid-terms but just wouldn’t have things any other way. Fortunately, it looks like rather than sabotaging our academic careers, we’re actually doing ourselves a favour by hauling ourselves to practice every day.

So I’ll lace up my shoes and get back out training and campaigning, hoping that when I do sit down to slog through my course readers, it’ll go as fast as I’m hoping to ski this winter.

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