Inaugural professorial lecture of Greg Whyte
27 February 2012
Professor of Sport and Exercise Science, Greg Whyte, delivered his inaugural professorial lecture entitled 'Exercise vs Sport: Good vs Evil'.
Greg began the lecture by stating that exercise becomes sport and moves from a positive to a negative not when it is moderate exercise but when it is arduous effort for a lifetime. He outlined a piece of research by Alan Neville which shows the limits to human performance and showed footage of close calls for winners of events. He commented that developments in technology, sport science and pharmacology have enabled humans to be stronger, faster and have more stamina but there will be an inevitable plateau as we reach human limits and that brings with it increased potential for injury and harm.
Greg then began to review research showing the effects that sport can have on areas of the body. He began with the heart, outlining research he and LJMU’s Keith George conducted which demonstrated that athletes had enlarged hearts. He also showed footage of footballer Marc-Vivien Foe who died from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy during an international match in 2003. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a major cause of death in young athletes who seem completely healthy but die during heavy exercise and it is an area which Greg has thoroughly researched. Greg said he felt his work in this area was the most important as it has had the most impact on the clinical world and the care of the athlete.
Greg then went on to look at the effects exercise can have on the immune system. He referred to a study which showed that if you took elite runners and compared them against healthy controls they had a huge increase in t-cells which bombard the immune system. The number of t-cells present in an athlete, he said, could be comparable to the number found in a smoker and it is therefore a myth that elite athletes are healthier. He added that anyone who knows athletes know that they are always ill with colds and other minor ailments.
He then introduced research into the effect sport can have on the lungs. He commented that 20% of Team GB are asthmatics, and in some squads over half of the team have asthma. He mentioned the work of LJMU's John Dickinson and said there is a potential that consistent, arduous exercise can make humans develop asthma.
The head was his next area of study and he commented that head injuries are a real problem when it comes to sport. He said they were high in professional boxing and horse racing although he did add that there is no evidence of head injury from amateur boxing.
As proof that arduous exercise can damage the whole body, Greg then showed footage of an iron man triathlete, one of the best in the world, who collapsed during a race and later had to have part of his colon removed. A sport scientist's job, said Greg, is to delimit the damage that sport can do to you and he gave Eddie Izzard as an example. Eddie ran 43 marathons in 51 days and Greg’s role was to was to reduce his muscle damage – Greg made Eddie get into an ice bath every night - keep damage of his feet to a minimum and help him cope with the concept of solitude. Sport science worked, said Greg, as Eddie wanted his last marathon to be his fastest and they achieved that.
Greg then gave other examples as to how the whole body can be affected by the combination of sport and the environment. He referred to Paula Radcliffe falling as an example of the impact of heat. She collapsed as she was hypohydrated - the combination of the sweltering heat and the high dose anti-inflammatories she had been prescribed caused severe dehydration. He then showed BBC footage of a man who had frostbite on his penis and had to have two inches of skin removed, proving the impact that cold and exercise can have on the body. He also outlined the impact of altitude and explained how altitude sickness causes hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the blood.
"Globally sport is innately problematic," said Greg.
Team work was a key subject throughout the lecture. Greg said he had been fortunate to have been able to work with real leaders in the field and had been surrounded by the godfathers of sport science such as Professor Craig Sharp and LJMU’s Professor Tom Reilly. He also paid particular thanks to LJMU's Professor Tim Cable and Keith George who he said had been a major part of his research career.
Pictured (left to right): Professor Tim Cable, Director of LJMU's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Greg Whyte, Professor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science, Professor Peter Wheeler, Dean - Faculty of Science