Hung up the boots? Feeling unfit? Try out different sports
Saudi youth make up a significant percentage of the population in the Kingdom, according to a survey published in 2019 by the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT). It showed Saudis aged between 15 and 34 years formed 36.7 percent of the total population, 51.03 percent of them males and 48.97 percent females.
Yet we have another large segment of people who are aged between 30 and 60, and they are physically inactive. According to recent studies, being physically inactive can lead to illness and depression.
One of my researcher colleagues is in this age category and started to fear for his health and that of his peers, so he decided to conduct his PhD thesis on retired Saudi athletes aged between 30 and 60.
Zayed Altowerqi, a PhD candidate at University Technology Malaysia, suggested that most retired athletes quit due to either injury or decreased performance as they grew older.
Although active youths tended to take good care of their health and fitness up until marriage, perhaps due to family obligations and commitments as they grew older, many of them tended to limit their lifestyle options, including practicing sports.
What happens to the body when an athlete does that? Does the body go into a phase of shock until it adapts to the new laid-back lifestyle, or does it break down gradually? Are the individuals aware of what is happening to their bodies when they stop, and to what extent do they fight back to maintain the same health and fitness? Does it matter what sport they used to play before retiring and how does that choice of sport affect their bodies eventually?
With the cooperation of the General Sports Authority (GSA) and the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation, Altowerqi traveled between different cities trying to gather information on different lifestyles, age categories and sports practiced previously.
Since sport for women was not introduced until recently, it was hard for him to include women in the study, although many of them approached him and were keen to learn about their heath as well. However, he felt that it would not represent a fair percentage of the research.
Altowerqi managed to collect data from athletes who used to participate in endurance sport such as long-distance events, power sports such as judo and mixed sports such as football.
Some of the important recommendations that he suggested for retired athletes were to keep a balanced diet and maintain an active lifestyle.
He also recommended participating in medium to high-intensity physical activity. He said that some of the athletes he interviewed showed a continued interest in brisk walking but they needed to do more because such exercise was too light.
Altowerqi said that, so far, retired power sport and mixed-sport athletes had shown the highest percentage for gaining weight and body fat, while the majority of retired athletics athletes (endurance, power, mixed sports) reached 100 mg/dl in diabetes (the recommended level is below 100).
If we look at it from another perspective, can we assume that those who pushed themselves or were under pressure to perform and exceed expectations were the first to give up training after retirement? And did they excel in sports because they loved their sport or only to meet expectations?
If they were not convinced enough, what can help them throughout their journey? How many examples of retired athletes can you think of who continued to take care of their health and fitness after retiring? And how many just gave up completely? Perhaps these different examples of dedication and passion for sports should be nurtured differently to ensure participation in physical activities does not stop.
We should keep reminding this group that sport is fun and staying healthy is the way to keep the fun lasting.
• Dr. Razan Baker is a director of international communication at the Saudi Olympic Committee, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist. Twitter: @RazanBaker