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Sport and exercise medicine

Sports and exercise medicine may seem to be a comparatively new medical speciality, but RCP fellows have been involved in using exercise for health, and in treating the after-effects of exercise, for longer than you might think.

Richard Mead (1673–1754), physician and philanthropist, was involved in the founding of the Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned children, in 1741. He actively encouraged movement and exercise and ensured a courtyard was built so that the children could run freely and get fresh air daily. Mead was the subject of an exhibition at the Foundling Museum last year, and many fascinating artefacts relating to him are held by the RCP museum, including several portraits, his gold headed cane, university diploma, printed works and even his own pocket watch.

Moving forward 200 years, Alexander Haig (1853–1924) in his book Diet and food considered in relation to strength and power of endurance, training and athletics examined the impact of uric acid on exercise and physical activity. His investigations led him to believe that migraines, which he suffered throughout his life, and many other medical issues were caused by excessive amounts of uric acid in the body.

Diet and food considered in relation to strength and power of endurance, training and athletics. Alexander Haig, published London, 1900

Haig said uric acid caused fatigue and to counter this he recommended a meat-and-caffeine free diet with plenty of dairy products, pulses and vegetables consumed throughout the day. Diet and food is packed with tips about what athletes should and should not do to improve their stamina, such as sucking lemons and drinking milk during exercise. For illustration Haig drew on a wealth of anecdotes including descriptions of cyclists who had to cut their journey short as they attempted to subsist on blackberries alone and a meat-eater versus vegetarian 70 mile walking race.

Haig was a physician to the Metropolitan Hospital and Royal Hospital for Children and Women. His ideas about uric acid were quite popular with the public, especially his recommendations around diet. However he faced criticism from others in the medical profession who did not accept that uric acid was the cause of so many different types of illnesses.

Sir Adolphe Andrews  (1883–1967) was a general physician who was deeply interested in athletics and the training of athletes, and was consulting medical officer to the British Olympic team on numerous occasions between 1912 and 1948. His written work included the topics of exercise, physical fitness, and the training of athletes. The brother of Harold Maurice Abrahams, the Olympic athlete, he was no mean performer himself and was often seen in middle age running round Regent’s Park.

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