Hi there, Calvin here, the ESA safety officer. I thought as we trudge into the third month of no shinty and varying degrees of isolation time I’d drop a wee line with some thoughts about staying fit and healthy during this strange period. I know that each of the shinty clubs is trying to keep people together and keep morale up during this time with great little schemes and ideas, but I thought I’d write out a few ideas of my own to stimulate conversation and activity and maybe at the very least pass the time it takes to write this, and for you all to read it.
As we all isolate to varying degrees there are a few dangers that we need to help each other avoid, some are fairly obvious and others perhaps a little more subtle. The shinty family has always been great at pulling together and helping every individual to overcome whatever health, financial, psychological or other challenges we face. I can see from chats, and facebook pages that this crisis is no different and that we’re all really doing our best to look out for one another and get through this together.
So what are the various health/safety issues that we face over the coming weeks and months?
Well there are plenty, but the first few that come to mind are surely…
1) COVID-19 - the virus (you may have heard of it)
2) Stress, Anxiety, Depression and other mental health problems
3) becoming unfit, deconditioned and overweight
4) Vitamin D deficiency
Number 1 - The COVID
Let’s start at the top. We are by now all aware of the viral pandemic that sweeping the world, and all of us should be heeding the government advice to stay indoors except for those who have to go to work and taking exercise or doing essential shopping etc. On top of this the requirement to stay 2m away from people when you are outside and to wash your hands when you come back home still remain. This advice is being updated as required and if you are in any doubt you should check it here. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
As we enter the 3rd month of the strict restrictions on our movements and activities some people are beginning to find a rhythm to this new life, whilst others are understandably getting to the end of their tether with it. In my work as a GP I’m having more and more conversations with people who feel unable to keep it up and are looking for ways to get around the advice. I think it’s really important that we remember that although this virus has predominantly killed those who are older and have underlying health conditions, it is also killing plenty of young fit and healthy people. Most worryingly, it seems to be almost impossible to predict which of those younger healthier people who are exposed to the virus will develop the more severe symptoms. As a result we all need to be super careful to keep to the social distancing guidance even when we feel well, or if we are with others who are young, fit or apparently healthy.
Number 2 - The mental stuff
So with that out of the way, I thought that we should think about how we as shinty players, coaches, refs and fans are in a great position to prevent the other health problems that the virus and lockdown throw up (if you’ll excuse the phrase).
We are a sociable lot! Shinty in England has developed to be a really open and inclusive sport, welcoming in lots of people who aren’t attracted to more mainstream sports and people who would not usually see themselves as sportspeople. This inclusivity has been a great source of pride for those of us who have watched the sport develop and expand down here over the last 10 years. It’s really important that over the coming week (and perhaps months) we keep that social spirit up. I can see that people are still keeping in touch in the main, but let’s be as imaginative as we can. Let's keep up the social media chat, let's keep up the video conference dates, and virtual social events. Let's also remember to reach out one to one to those in our clubs who we haven't heard from, or from those that don’t get on the computer so much.
At our last meetup London and Oxford along with many other sports teams around the UK took a minute to think about mental health before throw up. We remembered that depression and anxiety are really common - different studies have put the likelihood of having an episode of depression during your lifetime at between 1:20 and 1:4. There appears to be a definite bimodal distribution (for those of you who’ve become armchair statisticians these past months) with a peak in people developing this in young adult life and another in late middle age. That means that in our shinty teams there will be lots of people at higher risk of becoming depressed or anxious and that as fellow shinty buddies, we’ve a great opportunity to spot it and help them through it.
During the lock-down, lots of people are at risk of becoming more isolated and understandably anxious. Talking to friends (about normal stuff), hanging out online, or getting an unexpected call from a friend are all well known ways to help people feel calmer, more valued and generally better.
As teams we need to be reaching out day after day, making sure that people have the company they need, having a laugh (when we can), having a sing and even (takes off doctor coat) having a drink together (if only online)!
Number 3 - the fitness
When I sat down to write today, this is really the bit that I had in mind. As I touched on above, we are blessed in the english shinty world to attract a wide variety of players of varying fitness levels. Being stuck indoors and not being to meet physically is a massive challenge to all of us to keep up our fitness levels. Physical exercise has a massive part to play in helping our mental health, but also in how we feel during and then coming out of lock-down. All the life-saving hand-washing and strange supermarket quing will be for nothing if we all pile on the pounds and die of heart attacks prematurely. So what shall we all do. A lot of us rely on shinty training sessions and other communal exercise times to help us keep in shape (or keep us in slightly better shape than we would otherwise be), but this isn't going to be possible. So… lets be imaginative. We want to limit our time out of the house to the minimum possible or at least the minimum contact with other people. So for most of us higher intensity exercise is going to be the winner. Swimming pools and Gyms are out, so it's going to have to be the great outdoors or sweaty home training.
Cycling and running are great if you’re into them but can be a bit boring if they’re not your thing and running can be hard work to begin with. Let's work together to encourage each other to stay active. Signing up to strava or mapmyrun/ride are great ways to share what you’re doing and enter into some gentle competition with friends if that’s your bag, but for those who’re a little less confident or competitive, just setting a time with a friend when you both plan to go for a run and ringing them before and after can be a really helpful way to keep you both motivated. For those who’ve not run for a while, couch to 5k programmes are a fantastic way to get going, they’re designed to start you off at a level that anyone can join at and build up over the weeks till you are running constantly for half an hour (about 5k at a gentle pace). There are about a million apps that help you time them and build up and great series of NHS podcasts with cheesy music and a choice of celebrity coaches to have in your ear. Plain old “laura” has helped me slog round the block many a time when the belly is getting ridiculous or the blues are trying to lock me in the house again!
Lets pass on new ideas to keep exercise fresh and fun so that we all come out of this period in some sort of shintyable (new adjective) shape!
The other part of this of course is going to be what we eat. I see that Paul Mcarthur and Euan McMurdo had a bit of a cookoff (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1107380316310176) to see who could cook up the tastiest healthiest meal. We all need to be really aware that whilst indoors, most of us will be burning a whole lot less calories than we would normally and we’ll need to reflect this in our meals. A lot of us might also be seeking our a bit of comfort food (my lasagne dish is getting a good old hammering this month) and this can be fine in moderation, but there is a real risk of us piling on the KGs without meaning to.
So… let’s share some recipes, let’s think about changing our diet, let's use time (if we have lots of spare time) to enjoy cooking and then eating together. I’ve been having wee skype dinner parties on the weekends to keep sane, and it’s definitely encouraged me to make a bit more effort with the cooking (Kebab deliveries don’t quite fit with my idea of dinner party). I know there are some fantastic chefs amongst us, so let's show off a bit and let's talk calories, protein, micro-nutrients and bechamel sauces till the camans are back in our hands.
Number 4 - The sun “is a mass of incandescent gas…”
So we need to stay healthy, we need to eat well to get our share of most vitamins and minerals, but there is one that we don’t get well from our diet. Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin as it was called. Medical boffins are increasingly aware that normal peeps in the UK don’t get as much vitamin D as we really need. We get vitamin D from exposing our skin to sunlight and in winter most people in the UK become a bit deficient. Thankfully we tend to make this up over the summer months (particularly us outdoory shinty fans) and so it more or less balances out. Despite this, for the last few years, the government has advised that people take over the counter supplements during the winter and that anyone with darker skin or who dresses modestly (covering more of their skin) should take them all year round.
Vitamin D is a vital vitamin for putting calcium into our bones to keep them healthy. As shinty players it’s unlikely that I need to explain our need for very strong bones packed full of calcium, so probably it’s worth having a think - am I getting enough sunlight exposure to get my vitamin D? Is it worth taking a supplement this year?
Well, that’s just one to ponder.
In short (1800 words in) I think we as a shinty family in England are in an amazing place to support each other through a grim old time. There are bound to be some really tough times for some of us, but the strength that we have is not just on the field, it’s so much more than that.
Let's keep up with one another, look out for people we haven't heard from, and encourage each other to keep strong and keep healthy and with a bit of luck we’ll all be playing shinty again together before we know it.
Big virtual cuddles from your safety officer and (for many) fat uncle, Calvin.