After we finished medical school, two of my classmates and I, with our partners, took some burgers to the park and played ultimate frisbee. And until last year, I played rec volleyball in an adult league. Our average age? 30+. What if opportunities like these - Recess for Adults - were moments for healthy change?
Before you say "But Ashley, the people who would most benefit from these programs aren't the ones playing sports with other adults!" And I respectfully disagree. But fun nights of sports with friends could be the new locus of changing our bodies for the healthier.
The National Institute for Health in the UK asked just this question, and ran a randomized controlled trial comparing a gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living program for men with a control group of men involved only in their local sports club.
The internet is full of weight loss offerings for women. Virtual, in-person or both, the marketing of weight loss experiences to women dominates the landscape of health and fitness.
Is this because men don't buy into those programs?
Or because there are, with exceptions, few programs that call out to men?
So, the NIH decided to take their experimental program to Guy Ground Zero in the UK. The testing grounds for this program: 12 Scottish Professional Football League Trust teams in the United Kingdom. That is, soccer teams.
What made the program 'bloke-friendly'?
- men-only football clubs
- straightforward presentation of information, with a focus on alcohol
The controls were guys who wanted to participate in the program but were told they had to wait 12 months. The guys were then allocated in chunks to be either part of the group who got the program right away or the group who would get the program in 12 months.
The study was really well done. They had enough people participating. They picked the right guys: between 35 and 65 years old, BMI over 28 kg/m2. There was an even split between the groups. There were fewer non-white participants in the whole trial and fewer guys who had work paying below that of that of the general population.
They used valid tools to assess where the guys were when they started the program and their behaviours and health as they moved through the program. The researchers weighing the guys throughout the study didn't know who was a control guy and who was a treatment guy (this is called blinding, and it's super important).
The hope was that there would be a difference in the weight loss and overall health achieved by the treatment program compared to the guys who just played football, and didn't get the program.
And there was.
The researchers also found that the program was cost-effective for the communities in terms of absolute cash input v. output and quality-adjusted life years gained by weight loss and improved health.
The men in the program really enjoyed it. They liked the swag they got for participating, they liked that their coaches were the leaders, they like the camaraderie and they liked that they learned how to change their behaviours.
The program sort of reminds me of a mix of elementary school recess and team sports. I had access to these kinds of supports when I was playing competitive basketball and was rowing. They were awesome.
So it's like high school gym class all over again? This would totally traumatize a few people but not the same people who would find themselves on a soccer pitch.
What if we had province or state-sponsored adult recreation leagues with free health and fitness coaching? What if we could all find ourselves playing around a few nights a week with our friends?