Community initiative by West Ham United puts the focus on health

Having watched my regular weekly dose of soccer on BBC, which amounted to the highlights of the weekend games, I watched as part of that an interview with Tony Carr, MBE, the Director of Youth Team Development at Premier League Club, West Ham United.

West Ham paid tribute to Dylan Tombides, a promising Australian youth international who died aged 20 in London on Friday, following a three-year battle with testicular cancer, and was honoured by his club before Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace.

It is not just Tony Carr’s work for the club though that deserves special mention. He is a tireless worker for charity – not least for youngsters with diabetes – which is something that is often related by experts to snoring and sleep disorders. Three years ago, Carr was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. After learning to live with the condition and proving it should be no barrier to a healthy and active life, Carr has been involved with a number of awareness events.

As a result the club have set up regular fitness training events hosted by both coaching staff and players that the local fan base are invited to attend, and it reminded me of some recent events in the United States where a similar thing occurred.

Aaron Rodger of the Green Bay Packers

NFL fans were stunned when football legend Reggie White – known as the ‘Minister of Defence’ throughout his career with the Green Bay Packers – died in 2004 at the age of 43 from issues related to obstructive sleep apnoea.

To quote Diabetes Health:

“As a problem that disrupts the healthy sleep of millions of Americans and puts them at risk of a host of health problems, sleep apnoea is especially common among former professional football players, although like most of the population, they usually don’t know they have it.”

As a consequence, to raise awareness of the devastating and potentially deadly disorder, the ‘Hall of Fame’ has launched SAPP – the Sleep Apnoea Prevention Project, with the objective of encouraging everyone with undiagnosed sleep apnoea to take measures to improve their condition.  Because obstructive sleep apnoea is often linked to obesity, it makes sense that it is an especially big risk for former NFL players, who are encouraged to ‘beef up’ during their playing years but are plagued with obesity in retirement.

It’s an everyday problem for many in the United Kingdom too, as we age or become overweight. Different than snoring, obstructive sleep apnoea is caused by blockages of the airways during sleep, often from excess tissue in the throat or muscles that have grown slack with age. Those who have it essentially stop breathing during sleep, sometimes as many as a hundred times a night, which prevents the deep, restorative sleep that is essential to good health. Instead of waking refreshed, they wake up exhausted.

Awareness of this condition is especially important, because despite the warning signs – snoring, daytime exhaustion, headaches and sexual dysfunction among them – many of those living with sleep apnoea have no idea.  Often the first to report it is the partner, who cannot sleep for their snoring and hears them gasping for breath in the night.

Without treatment in one form or another, the only outcome is a shortened lifespan, so it makes sense to take steps as soon as possible to prevent the problem to catch it. Simply by wearing a simple oral appliance, very like a sports mouth protector, the problem is often overcome at a very early stage in the simplest of ways. The appliance moves the jaw forward slightly during sleep and keeps the airways open, so the brain is not deprived of regular oxygen.

More sports led initiatives of this nature are really needed, and have amazing value in pointing out that preserving good health is so key – and often so simple.

By John Redfern