A squad of U.S. physicians – as passionate about soccer as they are about improving health – are training intensively as they prepare to compete against teams from 14 other countries in the World Medical Football Championships in Budapest, Hungary June 29-July 7. At stake are bragging rights, national pride and international attention to the relationship between sports and health.
The U.S. Medical Soccer Team, led by President Gautam Nayak, M.D. and coached by Stephen Merriwether, drilled and scrimmaged recently in Indianapolis, where they formalized a collaborative effort with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM and the U.S. Medical Soccer team (USMST) will work together to further Exercise is Medicine®, a global health initiative that strives to make physical activity part of the health care plan for every individual.
“The guiding principles of EIM are extraordinary and commensurate with the fundamental professional and personal philosophies of USMST members,” said Nayak. “Exercise and physical activity have always been a big part of our lives, and regardless of medical specialty, something we truly believe in.”
The USMST comprises about two dozen physicians whose practices run the gamut from family practice and pediatrics to anesthesiology, dental surgery and ophthalmology. They caught the bug for soccer (known worldwide as football) early in life and maintained their skills while developing medical careers. Nayak explained that team members’ passion for the game goes beyond their desire to remain competitive.
“An overwhelming amount of evidence shows – and our professional experience bears out – that physical activity is essential for fitness, health and well-being,” he said. “That activity can take many forms, from walking to dancing, active play or sports. For us, like millions worldwide, playing soccer is an enjoyable way to stay active that brings co-benefits like stress release and fostering teamwork.”
Felipe Lobelo, M.D., Ph.D., a member of both ACSM and USMST, developed the idea of the USMST-EIM collaboration.
“We know that prevention efforts should be a cornerstone of our medical practices and a driving principle in our health care system,” Lobelo explained. “That being the case, physicians and other health care providers have an important responsibility to provide preventive counseling to their patients. Research consistently shows that the number-one predictor of whether a doctor gives preventive counseling, not surprisingly, is that doctor’s own health habits and practices. Active physicians are two to five times more likely to provide activity counseling to their patients compared to inactive physicians. This is why the USMST and EIM collaboration makes sense – active doctors preaching what they practice and walking the talk.”
Championships Coming to America in 2015
Nayak and the USMST are looking forward to hosting the world championships in 2015. In addition to developing their team and individual skills in preparation, they will continue a series of community events around the country to engage youth in soccer, participate in health fairs to promote physical activity for chronic disease prevention, and talk to fellow health care providers on how to routinely incorporate physical activity in health care delivery Ever on the agenda, said Nayak, is the goal of educating families on the importance of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. While in Indianapolis during the 60th ACSM Annual Meeting, the team visited the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center to present an educational program focused on nutrition, fitness and health care careers.
“The members of this team have practiced hard, invested in traveling to prepare and compete, and one day hope to hold the Ferran Morrell Trophy as World Medical Football champions,” said Nayak. “Our ultimate goal, however, is to encourage everyone to enjoy the health benefits of being physically active. We know that exercise truly is medicine. What could be more enjoyable than playing your way to better health?”
For more information about the U.S. Medical Soccer Team, visit www.usmedicalsoccerteam.org.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) American Fitness Index ™ (AFI) is a signature program created by ACSM in partnership with the Wellpoint Foundation. ACSM developed the program in 2007 to provide an evidence- and science-based measurement of the state of health and fitness at the community level throughout the U.S. Communities, organizations and individuals will be able to assess factors that contribute to health and fitness and measure the progress. To view their blog, visit http://www.americanfitnessindex.org/blog/.