Sport, as medicine – the first and last prescriptions!

What many people do not know about me is my relationship with the health sector.

Almost 20 years ago, I was invited to consult for the Nigerian Heart Foundation, NHF, on Sports (Golf specifically). That relationship eventually took me to Jomo Kenyatta University as part of a team of medical scholars researching ‘Active Transport’ in some African countries, including Nigeria. By the way, Active Transport is the quantum of physical activity a person does on a daily basis.

After that, the NHF facilitated my invitation as a resource person to the 13th World Public Health Congress in Ethiopia some years later, where I presented a paper on the effect of intensive sports on young children in my specialist sports ‘laboratory’ in Wasimi, Ogun State, an institution for boys and girls interested in combining their passion for sport with a sound education. The sports academy continues to flourish 17 years after, its products shining like a million stars wherever they perch. Many of them have enjoyed scholarships to several universities in the United States; a few have graduated and are now playing professional football in some European countries; some are in an Indian IT University gaining invaluable education and still playing their football; one played professional tennis in Europe; and another is, probably, the tallest basketball player in the world at the moment, plying his trade in Dubai.

As a result of that relationship with the NHF, I was appointed as African Ambassador of Non-Communicable Diseases, Nigeria Alliance, as well as African Champion of ‘Exercise is Medicine USA’ in Nigeria.

I have, therefore, become very conversant with issues related to health and sports, with personal experiences as my only authority on the subjects.

My major work has been to communicate the prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases, NCDs, in Nigeria to the public. These include High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Obesity and some Cancers, ‘silent killers’ all. These have become the commonest diseases afflicting no less than 40 million Nigerians, and half the total population of Black African/Americans in the United States of America.

The reality is that this means that one in every 4 Nigerians carries the burden of one heart-related disease or the other in their bodies. Affliction and death from these diseases are also rampant but only become ‘real’ when someone close to us dies and, later, we learn why.

Two days ago, an in-law died as a result of poor management of her hypertension. Her spiritual leader had told her to set aside her daily drugs and take to prayers for a permanent cure. She died at 51, and threw the whole family into avoidable distress.

Following my post on social media two days ago that I would be discussing the issue of High Blood Pressure on my radio program on Eagle7 Sports Radio today, I received a mail from one of my colleagues in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic and African Cup of Nations teams, Godwin Odiye, from his base in San Francisco, USA.

Part of his message read: “I was diagnosed about 25 years ago. My doctor could not understand why I was alive. I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for 3 days until my pressure was brought down. I have been put on medication and will be on it for the rest of my life. Exercise, walking and Yoga have helped. I’m looking forward to listening to your show on Saturday morning”.

If you are reading this on Saturday morning, the show he was referring to would either be on air, or would have ended. It is a special conversation with Professor Fatai Adeniyi, Deputy Provost of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, and Dr. Kingsley Kola Akinroye, Executive Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation, and Chairman of the Hospital Management Board of Osun State, two specialists in the field of Non-Communicable Diseases in Nigeria. I want to ask the gentlemen begging questions about what to do with this ailment with seemingly simple remedies that are on a rampage in Nigeria.

Apart from Godwin Odiye, there were 16 others in the Green Eagles that went to the 1976 Olympics, all supreme athletes that, on the basis of their athletics background, and general health care as national assets, should not have any problems related to Cardio vascular diseases, least of all, hypertension. Unfortunately, 9 members of that team have died. They died in their 40s and 50s. Only Joseph Erico and Samuel Ojebode died in his 60s. Most died of cardio-vascular diseases. Why? I shall ask my guests.

The point I am making is that life expectancy in Nigeria has been low for decades. It has not improved. Today, most Nigerians die whilst in their 50s as a result of Hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Something must be done urgently about it.

The pain is that there are simple remedies that can change the situation, but people are so absorbed in the hard and harsh hassles of daily life that we neglect, or forget, to make the remedies a fixture in our lives, to prevent, to manage or even to reverse the situation.

It is not easy, I admit, but in sport and a change of lifestyle there are simple solutions that can make a big difference.

5 years ago, I was declared a hypertensive patient.

Through the years, without realising it, I had become a victim of what I had been preaching to Nigerians for more than 10 years without making even the slightest dent.

The family doctor told me I would, unfortunately, have to live the rest of my life taking a daily medication to keep my Blood Pressure normal. That was in addition to regular exercise and a change involving strict diet.

Personally, it was not a burden until the side effects of the daily drugs started to take their toll. I eat moderately and decently; I avoid most foods listed as bad for a hypertensive patient; I exercise regularly by playing tennis at least 3 times a week; and I have kept worries out of my life as much as possible.

Now, I find out that the pills have devastating side effects, psychologically even worse than the HBP itself. One of the effects is the ‘killing’ of the male libido, a source of humiliation and psychological depression for many, leading to a desperate resort to all manner of alternative ‘power’ boosting medicines. It is a mental health situation for most Black men now. This is what my Cardiologist confirmed some weeks ago.

With all the advancement being made in medicine why has a better remedy not been found? Why must men be enslaved to harmful daily medications? In my work, I have just been reminded again, that the best remedies today are still the simple things that we fail to imbibe as a way of life for all of us – a daily dose of moderate exercise and the right diets in drinks and food consumed. My conversation with the two specialists today may provide some answers.

From yesterday, September 29th, we have entered the month dedicated every year to the fight against Heart-related Diseases in the world. My responsibility as an Ambassador is to pass on the message to all Black men that Hypertension, Diabetes, and Obesity are silent killers that enter into our lives like thieves at night, and snuff them out even before we get to the evening of life.

A daily dose of Sport, done religiously and faithfully, in addition to strict control of the food and drinks that we consume daily, the best of which are in over-abundance around us locally, can save us from a life of misery, humiliation, debilitating illness, sudden and pre-mature death.

Physical activity is simple and effective against the greatest killer of the Black race.

It should be the first and the last prescription by every medical personnel against all Non-Communicable diseases. In short, ‘Exercise is the best Medicine”

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