April 30, 2010
Most adults recognize that exercise is an important component of healthy living. A significant body of research shows that adults who exercise regularly live longer, healthier, happier lives that those who do not. Of course exercise can take the form of a brisk walk three times a week and this is certainly better than no exercise at all. However, many studies indicate that increased benefits result from more vigorous exercise. Why compete? Here are the reasons most often expressed by Masters Athletes.
て｢ Camaraderie: Competition builds camaraderie. Athletes have a shared sense of purpose with their teammates and their competitors. A coach for the Boston Running Club notes that even track and field generates an infectious team atmosphere at the club level even though most of the events involve individuals. The joy of achieving a personal best is magnified when it is shared with others who understand the hard work that has gone into it.
Even the most popular sports have a relatively small universe of competitors. If you compete regularly, you will meet and compete against many of the same people at each game, meet, or race. For years I have competed in kayak racing in New England. At each race I know and expect to meet my opponents. We look forward to testing ourselves against each other and the river.
In general, Masters Athletes are mature, not only in chronological age, but in outlook. The kind of trash-talking whining, and excuses so common in professional sports and virtually unheard of in Masters Sports. The degree of mutual support, encouragement, and respect grow out of two two traits of Masters Sports. First, the stakes are on a human scale: no multimillion dollar purses or bowl bids, no shoe contracts or product endorsements, no TV packages or incentive money. Second, unlike college or pro athletes, Masters Athletes have a long competitive horizon and its natural by-product, patience. These athletes are in it for the long haul. It just doesn't make sense to alienate someone you may be competing against for decades.
て｢ Goal Setting: Competition provides a consistent measure of performance. Exercise without competition may be measured by the clock or the mile post, but it can be a lonely, even boring, endeavor because it lacks the added challenge of a human opponent. There is something fundamentally human about seeking a sense of progress, a sense of moving forward. In every competition the athlete establishes a marker against a field of competitors and, in many sports, against the clock as well. A fifth place finish, a narrow victory, a seven minute mile are examples of markers. Of course progress is not inevitable. Hard work and intelligent training are essential. But the opportunity for progress is always there.
て｢Recognition: Close related to goal setting is recognition. If you achieve or surpass a goal, it is nice to be recognized. Even the most humble person appreciates well-deserved acclaim. Competition offers public recognition of your accomplishments. Most Masters Athletes are ambivalent about ribbons, medals, or trophies awarded at competitive events. On the one hand, a trophy is a tangible memento of the event and the hard work that went into competing. Other the other hand, a trophy's importance diminishes with time, eventually cluttering attics or garages. However, I have never been to a competition where a winner declined an award honestly won.
It is the nature of competition that not everyone wins a trophy. But long-time competitors know when they run a good race or played a good game. And their long-time opponents know it too. Many times I have been congratulated for an outstanding effort by the athletes I have competed against, even though I finished in the middle of the pack. There are also several ways, such as age-group classes and Age Grading, in which sports attempt to level the competitive field. I'll discuss these more in future postings.
て｢ Physical Benefits: Any exercise is better than none. Moderate exercise, such as gardening or walking for 20 minutes three time a week, expending about 500 calories provides great cardiovascular benefits, especially compared with doing nothing.
Competition generally requires more vigorous exercise and training for most sports demands a higher level of caloric burn. Two studies support the case of more vigorous exercise. A pioneering study* by Jeremy M. Morris on British civil servants showed that vigorous aerobic exercise resulted in a reduction in coronary heart disease. A Harvard Study** of 17,000 graduates over 33 years showed that those men who expended at least 1,500 calories per week had a 25 percent lower risk of dying at any age.
て｢ Travel: No one competes in order to travel, but it is one of the incidental benefits of sports competition often cited by Masters Athletes. While competitions close to home are the rule for most people, there are many opportunities for athletes to test themselves against others across the United States and beyond. The venues for national championships for each of the 27 sports are presented on that sport's page on this website. Regional and national Masters competitions are well-organized and always include social events, along with the athletic events. The atmosphere around these competitions are always festive.
Finally, sports competition is fun. The thousands of Masters Athletes who compete will testify to this. As I have urged in previous postings, please come join us.
(*) "Vigorous Exercise in Leisure Time and the Incidence of Coronary Heart Disease" Jeremy M Morris, Chawe, Adam, Epstein, Sheehan, Lancet, 1973
(**) "Exercise Intensity and Longevity in Men", Paffenbarger, Lee, Hsich, Journal of the American Medical Association, April 1955