no hand shaking please, we're british
This article takes a look at how susceptibility works and how the chief medical officer for the British Olympic Association fails to take it into account.
Whilst we were in the process of writing our What is Health? series the chief medical officer for the British Olympic Association said that the British Olympic athletes should try to avoid shaking hands with their competitors. He was afraid that shaking hands would put the athletes at risk of picking up germs and getting sick.
We thought at the time that it was the perfect article to illustrate the principle of susceptibility and a great example of the absurdity we sometimes see in the world of health nowadays. It deserved a blog post, so here it is.
I can understand that an athlete has trained for years to reach peak physical fitness at just the right time, but is shaking hands really their biggest threat? The athletes are going to be in the middle of London, already breathing in all of its pollution and airborne germs!!
We see similar attitudes in school where children are dissuaded from sharing, adverts suggest we disinfect everything, the fear factor of germs is constantly evoked. Where does it end? Do we want to live in a society where we can't shake hands for fear of getting ill? How far do we take this? Shall we all walk around wearing a Hazmat suit?!
Let's take a look at the absurdities in this statement.
Firstly, every day we come into contact with millions of pathogens (a pathogen is a potentially, disease-causing microorganism - a germ) - so over time our bodies have adapted to be able to survive this. It's the nature of life and not shaking hands is going to have little impact on the overall level of germs that we come into contact with. We can't just isolate ourselves in own little bubble - and that's not a route I'd even want to consider.
If you have watched our susceptibility video you'll see that we actually have a lot of say in whether we get ill or not - we are not just a helpless victim of circumstance. We can reduce our own susceptibility so that we don't just fall ill to every pathogen that we come in contact with. If that wasn't the case could you imagine the kind of problems that we would run into every day?!
Our resistance to potential pathogens can be increased by looking at our health and our lifestyle and making improvements. It's important that we give our body the healthiest possible 'soil' - so that our bodies can easily deal with the pathogens it comes into contact with.
How do we give ourselves the best possible chance? Well eating well is definitely important, but there's a lot more we can do, such as making sure we are exercising, sleeping well, and also we should be making sure that we remove those "maintaining causes" that we discuss in the video on susceptibility.
We face things that can threaten our health on a daily basis - the solution to this is to make sure that we are as healthy as possible so that we can deal with those challenges - whether they are physical in nature, like potential pathogens or emotional challenges that we face. Humans can be incredibly resourceful when faced with challenges.
This leads us on to our belief that prevention is better than cure, which is something that we discuss in a later video. Prevention of illness is not trying to avoid every possible scenario by which we could get ill - that's a completely impractical way of living our lives. True prevention comes from equipping ourselves the best we possibly can so that we can deal with what might come our way.
Lastly, sport and in particular the Olympics is about the bringing together of people with a common aim, how sad it would be if the athletes don't engage in that important part of any sport - the simple handshake.
Being a sportsperson (and even more so being British€¦) I feel that this is an integral part of any sport's match - in a rugby match we might have just spent the last 80 minutes playing hard against each other making or breaking big tackles but the handshake is a chance to put that aside and say "well done, good game" and that's important. Human beings are naturally social creatures and that should never be negated. And sport is a very social activity.
Let's never end up in a world where people are too afraid to communicate and interact with each other for fear of picking up germs.
I understand why a sportsperson would be nervous about picking up an illness in the run up to the Olympics but removing the handshake is not the solution. Sportspeople are role models and this could have a knock on effect across society.
Instead let's support our bodies and help them do what they love to do - which is to serve us. Everyday, amongst its many other roles, our bodies successfully combat millions of the germs they come into contact with, so let's support them in that process and congratulate our bodies for the tremendous job they do.
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