Stress course does away with need for doctor
A short training course that teaches athletes how to deal with psychological stress reduces the number of days that athletes doing heavy training miss due to sickness. Stress researcher Frank Perna came up with this conclusion in a study that was published in the Annals of Behavioral Science in 2003.
Intensive training sends cortisol levels up. This is a natural phenomenon, but a too high cortisol level is really bad for athletes. Psychological stress, for example as a result of life-changing events, also increases cortisol levels. Athletes who experience the death of someone close or intense conflict produce even more cortisol after a heavy training session than normal. Power athletes under high levels of stress make less progress than power athletes not under stress.
A course that teaches athletes to deal with stress lowers cortisol levels, Perna discovered in 1998. But is that effect so strong that athletes are less sick as a result? Or even perform better?
It wasn't until 2003 that Perna got a partial answer to these questions, after he'd done a study of 34 rowers, some of whom first did a stress course and were then monitored for a period of three months afterwards.
Eighteen rowers took the course, which consisted of seven sessions in which they learned exactly what stress is, as well as relaxation and breathing exercises, and mental techniques to block stress such as visual motor behavioural rehearsal, emotive imagery and cognitive restructuring.
Sixteen athletes in the control group did not take the course.
In the following three months the athletes were given a heavy training schedule, and Perma recorded the average number of days the athletes were sick and how often they visited a doctor.
CBSM = stress course group.
"A time-limited CBSM intervention designed specifically for an athlete population may be an effective prophylactic treatment to reduce the incidence of injury and illness among competitive athletes", Perna concluded.
Wonderful. But do athletes perform better as a result of learning to deal with stress? Perna's study doesn't answer this question. The PhD research that the Australian sports scientist Jared West did in 2008 does answer it. [espace.library.uq.edu.au] More or less.
West, working at the University of Queensland, gave rowers a stress course and then monitored them for thirteen weeks. The athletes trained hard. The ones who had not done the stress course clocked up slower times for the 2000 metres and their performance decreased by 3 percent. The athletes who had followed the course maintained their performance level.
Ann Behav Med. 2003 Winter;25(1):66-73.
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