Nice people don’t cheat… no they do, they just don’t get caught. We are all capable of unethical behaviour, we consider the profit it may bring, the possibility of being caught and the scale of possible punishment.  We are more likely to cheat when we can benefit more from it, when there is no witnesses and the punishments are mild (Becker, 1968).  Athletes go through the cost-benefit analysis of cheating by rationalization. And some believe the consequences, both organizational and to their own health, is lower than the performance benefit of doping.

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Ben Johnson winning the 1988 100m Olympic final before being disqualified for using anablic steroids

In Sport only professional athletes cheat by using performance enhancing drugs, they are the only people with anything to gain? We criticize them and blame our growing cynicism with success in sport on professional athletes’ propensity to dope. But to feel that any sport is above or beyond doping is not only naive and gullible, it’s dangerous. Each sport relies on the moral compass of its athletes to determine their course, and historically athletes in all sports have not been the most trustworthy. So why would the GAA athletes be any different, is their moral guidance superior; are they immune from the temptations that athletes in other sports experience? Why is the governing body willing to keep positive tests under wraps to avoid potential scandals? Just like professional athletes amateurs are completely wrapped up in their competitive identity. And the reality is amateur athletes dope too. The danger is, that by choosing to brush even one failed test under the carpet, the sport has been irreversibly damaged. Whether it is an accidental failure or due to a systematic doping programme is irrelevant, the fact is that doping of any kind gives the recipient an unfair advantage over clean competitors. The sales of performance enhancing drugs are growing all over the world because it allows amateurs mimic the performances and physiques of their professional counterparts, and historically no sport has had a drugs problem until they end up with a bad one.

The best-known drugs for increasing strength and power are anabolic steroids, these compounds imitate the way testosterone works in the body, activating protein synthesis and building more muscle tissue. A course of steroids combined with training can translate to a 38% increase in strength in men, potentially more in women. Human growth hormone is another popular choice amongst dopers; this stimulates muscle growth and has been shown to increase sprinting speed by up to 4% (Meinhardt et al., 2010). To improve endurance the aim is to boost the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and athletes can get dramatic results from blood cell transfusions or taking erythropoietin (EPO) and can improve stamina by up to 34 % in some cases (Buick et al., 1980; Williams et al., 1981). Researchers in Germany discovered that 15% of three thousand triathletes (amateurs) surveyed admitted to brain doping – using prescription medicines that increase attention concentration, memory, cognition and overall mental performance. Taking drug products including amphetamines, or medicines like modafinil or methylphenidate to enhance the brain is more fashionable among amateur athletes than taking drugs to boost power, strength and endurance. In the same study 13% said they had taken drugs like EPO, steroids, or growth hormones (HGH) (Dietz et al., 2013). These drugs not only have a reputation for improving athletic performance but also have potentially dangerous side effects. Steroids can cause high blood pressure, thickening of the heart valves, decreased fertility and libido, and changes such as chest hair in women and shrunken testicles in men. And boosting the number of red blood cells thickens the blood, increasing the risk of having a stroke amongst other things.

Athletes, both professional and amateur, will always have the desire to push the edge whether that is for money, recognition or both.  They must decide whether they are to compete honestly and safely but at a possible disadvantage. But anyone that has trained for a goal knows it is a test in the ability to persist and postpone the short-term satisfaction of stopping, in favour of achieving.  In today’s fast paced world instant gratification is the norm, patience and hard work is undervalued and not tolerated. Sometimes in the effort to win at all costs even “nice” people ignore their moral compass and push beyond their natural limits to be “faster, higher, stronger”.

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References

Becker GS. (1968). Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach. Journal of Political Economy 76, 169-217.

 

Buick FJ, Gledhill N, Froese AB, Spriet L & Meyers EC. (1980). Effect of induced erythrocythemia on aerobic work capacity. Journal of Applied Physiology 48, 636-642.

 

Dietz P, Ulrich R, Dalaker R, Striegel H, Franke AG, Lieb K & Simon P. (2013). Associations between physical and cognitive doping–a cross-sectional study in 2.997 triathletes. PLoS One 8, e78702.

 

Meinhardt U, Nelson AE, Hansen JL, Birzniece V, Clifford D, Leung KC, Graham K & Ho KK. (2010). The effects of growth hormone on body composition and physical performance in recreational athletes: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 152, 568-577.

 

Williams MH, Wesseldine S, Somma T & Schuster R. (1981). The effect of induced erythrocythemia upon 5-mile treadmill run time. Med Sci Sports Exerc 13, 169-175.

 

 

Having evaluated the data from over 23.2 million Fitbit wearers around the world last year, Fitbit has ranked Ireland at the top of their 2017 Fitbit Fittest Countries list. So Fitbit says Ireland is the fittest nation in the world……..but we are in our fat arses! fittest-countries-fitbit (1)Because technology is now wearable it allows sleep quality, the number steps taken and calories burned to be measured. It is capable of tracking heart rate, daily activity levels and exercise; it can even be used as a GPS running watch. It makes these measurements available at a glance and some brands claim that wearing one means “it’s easier to live healthier lives and achieve more” (Dontje et al., 2015; Ferguson et al., 2015). The fitbit bands are by no means the only option. Bands produced by Jawbone, Microsoft and Nike, to name only a sample, accurately collect and sync data to computers or phones.

As the economies of countries grow so do the residents’ waistlines, countries with higher per capita income have lower rates of physical activity. Indeed, countries with low income per capita that has more active lifestyles due to the physical nature of their everyday work which is prevalent in their economies (Sallis et al., 2016). So the reality is we may the fittest of the developed fat nations whose residents can afford and are wealthy enough to buy fitbits.

One of the measures used by fitbit to rate the fitness of countries was the number of steps completed in a day. Walking is a rhythmic, dynamic, aerobic activity which uses the large skeletal muscles resulting in huge benefits with minimal adverse effects. Walking at a brisk pace (3-4mph) regularly in sufficient quantity into the ‘training zone’ of 70% of maximal heart rate develops and sustains physical fitness. The muscles of the legs and lower trunk are strengthened, the flexibility of joints preserved and posture and carriage may even improve. Walking is also the most common weight-bearing activity, and therefore contributes at all ages to an increase in related bone strength at all ages (Morris & Hardman, 1997; Murtagh et al., 2002). The growing popularity of – step linked health promotion messages are not new , they are believed to be of Japanese origin and dating as far back as the 1960’s. Most nations own national health organisations recommend 10,000 steps per day (steps/day) as a minimum target for health benefits of their adult populations ……. Ireland’s fitbit wearers have an average of only 8517 steps …… so unfortunately despite fitbits claims this does not make Ireland the fittest country in the world.

The contribution of increased levels of activity to health have been studied as far back as the 1950s, at which time bus conductors and postmen were identified as having lower death rates from cardiovascular disease than less active workers – drivers and switchboard operators (Morris et al., 1953). Sedentary behaviours include sitting, driving (commuting), lying down (not sleeping) and television viewing (Chu & Moy, 2013). Industrial, technological and social progress have considerably reduced our physical activity levels and greatly increased the participation in sedentary behaviours (Matthews et al., 2012).  FitBit found that Irish fitbit wearers are physically active for an average of only 24 minutes; again well below the international recommendations of at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

But modern living in Ireland doesn’t tolerate physical activity. Vehicles, machines and technology now do our moving for us. Our leisure time activities don’t come close to making up for what we’ve lost. Exercise and more importantly movement has now become optional. But in the real “fittest” nations on earth physical activity is neither optional nor part of leisure; it is entwined in their daily lives. In Mozambique, agriculture provides livelihoods for the vast majority of over 23 million inhabitants. Mozambicans are at an optimum peak of physical activity through their daily activities of fishing, producing timber and cultivating cashew nuts, tobacco, tea, cotton, coconuts and citrus fruit. The landlocked African country of Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries. But it is one of the most physically active countries in the world. Because 90% of Malawians live in rural areas, and most work in agriculture and are forced carry out strenuous physical activity daily. But not all of the real “fittest” countries in the world are poor with economies that are primarily dependent on agriculture. farm gym Oil shortages in 1973-1974 were the catalyst to a cycling craze in the Netherlands that has only grown ever since. Scarcities forced the Dutch government to restrict motor vehicles in its towns and cities and to focus on alternate forms of transport – the bicycle. Today in the Netherlands, cycling accounts for 27% of all trips nationwide, and for 59% of trips within cities. Almost 40% of the population either walks or cycles to work daily – making them one of the fittest nations on earth. Exercise in these countries is not a choice or a leisure activity, it’s a means of transport or even a way of survive. But wearing a fitbit is like wearing your conscience on your wrist. It brings the guilt of “not being active” into the now rather than postponing it, and turning it into a promise. Reaching for the remote, the band sneaks out from under the sleeve and asks – could you do more? Have you hit your recommended step count for today? Have you earned the calories to eat the fruit and nut?   These bands really do change behaviour, they increase activity levels and reduce the risk of health problems (Lyons et al., 2014).  But we Irish are far from being the fittest in the world, unfortunately we are on course to be one of the fattest –   if current trends continue Ireland will be the fattest country in Europe by 2025 – because physical activity isn’t a case of life and death for us ….. or is it?

References

Chu AHY & Moy FM. (2013). Joint Association of Sitting Time and Physical Activity with Metabolic Risk Factors among Middle-Aged Malays in a Developing Country: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS One 8.

 

Dontje ML, de Groot M, Lengton RR, van der Schans CP & Krijnen WP. (2015). Measuring steps with the Fitbit activity tracker: an inter-device reliability study. J Med Eng Technol 39, 286-290.

 

Ferguson T, Rowlands AV, Olds T & Maher C. (2015). The validity of consumer-level, activity monitors in healthy adults worn in free-living conditions: a cross-sectional study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 12, 42.

 

Lyons EJ, Lewis ZH, Mayrsohn BG & Rowland JL. (2014). Behavior change techniques implemented in electronic lifestyle activity monitors: a systematic content analysis. J Med Internet Res 16, e192.

 

Morris JN & Hardman AE. (1997). Walking to health. Sports Med 23, 306-332.

 

Morris JN, Heady JA, Raffle PA, Roberts CG & Parks JW. (1953). Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work. Lancet 265, 1053-1057; contd.

 

Murtagh EM, Boreham CA & Murphy MH. (2002). Speed and exercise intensity of recreational walkers. Prev Med 35, 397-400.

 

Sallis JF, Bull F, Guthold R, Heath GW, Inoue S, Kelly P, Oyeyemi AL, Perez LG, Richards J & Hallal PC. (2016). Progress in physical activity over the Olympic quadrennium. Lancet 388, 1325-1336.