With the Olympics currently in full swing, athletes from all over the world have descended upon the United Kingdom to take part in this premier sporting event. Of course, this involves a good deal of travel, for athletes from every corner of the Earth attend, but this is not something novel, as though the Olympics take place every 4 years, there are dozens of other sporting events that are held every year and in order to compete, athletes have to travel. Of course, one would imagine that with such schedules, jet lag may get the better of them, but after seeing record breaking performances like Usain Bolt’s, this may just sound alarmist. A new study actually puts stock to this theory and states that those athletes who travel over five different time zones in a year can actually affect their health.
The study conducted by the BMJ Group suggests that those athletes who are required to travel across time zones, in this case, five, risk doubling their chance of illness. The study suggests that air travel itself does not affect athletes’ health, but the fact that they are in a different environment and subject to different environmental conditions as well as different germs and allergens increases the chance of illness. Conversely, the study also lends to the home advantage theory, saying a team or athlete playing on home ground performs better because they are on familiar turf.
For the study, the researchers tracked the daily health of 259 rugby players during the 2010 Super 14 Rugby Tournament. Over the course of the 16-week tournament, the health of players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa was tracked, with the teams playing in each of these countries. What the researchers found was that for those teams that played home matches, there were 15 reported illnesses in every 1,000 days played, but once they travelled abroad, crossing five international time zones, this increased to 33 reported illnesses for every 1,000 days played, dropping back down to 11 reported illnesses for every 1,000 days upon return.
The type of illnesses observed were largely respiratory conditions followed by gut issues and skin and soft tissue problems.
Speaking about the research, Prof. Martin Schwellnus said, "It is a common perception that international travel increases illness - due to organisms in aeroplanes.”
However, the present study dispels this notion, saying, “The stresses of travelling seem not to affect the players because when they return home the risk of illness does not differ from normal. Changes in air pollution, temperature, allergens, humidity, altitude as well as different food, germs and culture could all contribute to illness when arriving in a distant destination."
As to the theory of home advantage, Professor Schwellnus said, “These findings could be relevant to the Olympics and might contribute to a home advantage.”