Sports physician tells why exercise is the best medicine

I specialise in sports medicine because...

I love sports and used to play badminton competitively during my school and university days.

When I was a junior doctor, a senior suggested that I take up sports medicine as I am an athlete myself. That struck a chord in me and there was no turning back.

The musculoskeletal system is fascinating because...

Of its ability to produce such a variety of powerful and intricate movements.

The human body is designed to move and physical activity is beneficial to almost all physiological systems: the heart, lungs, immune and hormonal system, as well as the brain and nervous systems.

Physical activity reduces one's risk of developing chronic diseases, such as dementia, and cuts the risk of death from any other causes over a period of time.

One little known fact about sports injuries is...

Most arise from overuse and may result from a combination of factors such as structural abnormalities, training errors, faulty techniques and the lack of strength. Most injuries can heal with time when you modify the contributing factors.

Pain is usually the first sign that something is not right. To prevent an injury, use appropriate gear, for instance, running shoes for running and a helmet for cycling. Increase the exercise intensity and duration gradually, scheduling rest days in between workouts.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would...

Be an exercise advocate. I promote exercise to sedentary patients and help them incorporate it into their lives. I also help injured patients regain their joint functions so they can return to active lifestyles.

A typical day for me would…

Have me wake up between 5 and 6am to get the children ready for school, before I get to the hospital for morning teaching sessions. I need more time for travel as I use public transport. I work part-time - four days a week - so I can attend to my children. I usually end work at about 6pm if I have afternoon clinics.

On some days when I can leave earlier, I will go for a jog. Most weekday nights are spent supervising my children's schoolwork and doing household chores after dinner. I do not have a helper so my husband and I share the chores.

I have come across all types of cases…

With the majority of my patients in the age range of 10 to 50.

They are either active in sports and exercise or trying to get active.

The common types of injuries I treat are patellofemoral (knee cap) joint problems, knee ligament tears, acute ankle sprains, shoulder joint problems and chronic tendon injuries.

I love patients who are...

Owners of their health and actively involved in the treatment process.

Patients who get my goat are...

Rare. When I first started out as a doctor, I used to get frustrated with patients who did not heed my advice or recommendations.

After a while, I learnt to see things from the patient's perspective. I now explain the treatment approach thoroughly so they can make an informed decision and comply with treatment.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

Patients recovering from their injuries and returning to the activities they love; and previously sedentary patients taking steps to increase their daily activity levels and seeing improvements in their health.

Some of the benefits of exercise can be quite "instant" - feeling good, relaxed and sleeping better.

For more significant effects on physical fitness, weight loss, joint problems or chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, exercise needs to be regular and maintained for at least a month.

It breaks my heart when...

Patients have to give up their physical activities permanently because of injuries. For example, shoulder injuries, such as muscle or cartilage tears, may render swimmers and racquet sports players unable to continue in their sports, as would back and wrist injuries hinder gymnasts, and cartilage tears hinder runners or football players.

I would not trade places for the world because...

I love what I am doing. With more lifestyle-related diseases and a worldwide trend of an ageing population, the emphasis on preventive medicine is growing.

The importance of physical activity and nutrition will only become stronger as we uncover more evidence about how our health is closely linked to our lifestyles. It will ultimately be the cheapest and most effective way to "treat" diseases.

My best tip...

I love this slogan in a poster by the Health Department of Australia that I saw some years ago: "Exercise - you only have to take it regularly, not seriously."

The saying "no pain, no gain" reinforces the false impression that exercise has to be endured, not enjoyed. However, we now know that we do not need to engage in exhausting and painful types of exercise to achieve good health. The key is to make exercise a regular affair.


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