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June 18, 2019


Words – Kate Starling
Photos – matt@edgeofthemap.co.uk


We can be doing all the right things: for example eating a low carb diet, following a training program, but it is not easy to know if our blood glucose levels are in the right range, or if overtraining is leading to chronic inflammation.

Even if we feel fit and well and have no health problems at all, do we truly know how healthy we are on the inside? Whilst we all try to eat well, stay at a healthy weight, sleep for eight hours a night, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle, what conditions are we developing or at risk of silently developing which we have absolutely no idea about? And if we knew what was going on inside us, could we prevent any of these conditions from happening?

One of the easiest, quickest and cheapest options for checking your health is taking a blood test. Regular blood testing is a really important step to help prevent life threatening disease from developing. It has the potential to detect critical changes within the body which over time may manifest themselves as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Choosing to have a blood test can therefore provide a solid scientific basis on which you can alter your lifestyle, diet and training programme to effect a true and positive change in your health. It will also help to maximise your sports performance and fitness.

Blood tests can be used to assess a huge number of functions within the body and can provide vital clues regarding your overall health. This includes things such as your liver and kidney function, thyroid function, immune function, blood glucose levels and blood cell counts together with any vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I daresay it’s unlikely that unless you’re suffering from specific symptoms, your doctor probably isn’t going to order a full and comprehensive blood test for you just because you’re interested in assessing your internal health. However, there are some great blood testing companies offering great services online. Typically, they’ll send you a kit and one finger prick later your blood sample can be winging its way off in the post to be analysed at a laboratory.

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It’s astounding to see what the information gained from a blood test can be used to detect and diagnose. Here are a few examples….

A complete blood count will assess things such as the number and quality of your red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. This is enormously useful to help screen for infection, anaemia and other haematological abnormalities. It can also be used to evaluate blood clotting and oxygen transport around the body.

Whilst regular aerobic exercise such as SUP can help counter cardiovascular disease, your diet will play a huge role in the health of your heart. Cholesterol is critical for all cellular functions within the body. However, if your levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol – known as low density lipoproteins – are too high this can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Testing can also evaluate your ‘good’ cholesterol or the level of high density lipoproteins you have in your body.  Higher levels of good cholesterol will help to prevent your risk of a heart attack or stroke. A blood test will also not only screen you for cholesterol but also will assess your tryglyceride levels. If these levels are raised then they can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Blood tests can monitor the levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in your blood, a key indicator of inflammatory change within the body. Chronic, high levels of inflammation can be linked to heart disease and an increased risk of stroke. Normally, exercise can help to reduce CRP levels although the mechanism by which it does this is unknown. One argument is that exercise helps you to maintain a healthy weight. It’s thought that fat or adipose tissue is a direct source of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-a and IL-6 which can stimulate the production of CRP within the liver. If you’re overweight and don’t do much exercise, increasing your physical activity can therefore help you to lose fat and in turn lower your CRP levels, reducing inflammatory change within the body. This a great reason for getting out on your SUP board much more often. However, if you over train too much exercise can increase your levels of CRP. The level of exercise you do therefore needs to be balanced. If you’ve been SUP training hard then you may need to reduce the intensity or frequency of your training sessions. Training aside, what you eat plays an enormous role in inflammatory change within your body. You may well be working out regularly but if you eat a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods the exercise you do won’t necessarily undo the risk of inflammation occurring. 

“A complete blood count will assess things such as the number and quality of your red blood cells which can be used to evaluate oxygen transport around the body.”

Your blood glucose levels are a fundamental aspect of your overall health and are a critical indicator of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Blood testing can be used to examine how your body has managed its blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months. It’s easy to believe that if you’re active and SUP and cross-train regularly your blood sugar levels shouldn’t be a problem due to the level of activity you do. This is because exercise improves insulin sensitivity, up to two hours after exercising and through multiple adaptations in glucose transport and metabolism.  However, research indicates that even athletes can have high fasting blood glucose levels which can determine them as ‘pre-diabetic’. Typically, athletes are encouraged to consume high carbohydrate diets to replenish muscle glycogen stores and to improve performance, with a particular focus on post exercise carbohydrate consumption. However, this can negatively impact on your blood sugar levels, particularly if you have a low tolerance of carbohydrates. The positive news is that if a blood test shows increased blood glucose levels and reduced insulin sensitivity you can change this relatively easily by improving your diet and increasing the amount of exercise you do.

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If you’re keen to improve your sports performance, testing for vitamin and mineral levels is critical. Even if you eat a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet, there’s no true way of knowing you’re eating adequate vitamins and minerals unless you have a blood test to assess exactly what’s going on inside you. Any deficiencies can then be addressed through diet. This is particularly important because even if you follow a disciplined and solid SUP training programme, chances are you won’t get the most out of it if your diet isn’t right. Vitamins such as B12 are critical for brain health, blood cell production and nerve function. Without it, you can be anaemic, feel weak, tired and have cognitive problems such as memory loss. Critically, vitamin B12 can’t be made by the body so adequate levels rely solely on your diet. If you’re a vegetarian you may be at a higher risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Meanwhile, vitamin B9 is important for tissue building, cellular repair and blood cell formation, critical for health and sports performance. If you SUP regularly and are struggling to recover post exercise, then your vitamin D levels may be to blame. Suboptimal levels of vitamin D have been linked to muscle pain and weakness, increased risk of illness, inflammatory injuries and above all reduced athletic performance. Due to its importance in calcium absorption it has also been linked to stress fractures. As SUP is a low impact sport it’s unlikely that you’ll suffer a stress fracture during some water time but if you cross train for SUP then you could be at a higher risk.

I could go on and on! The number of things something as simple as a blood test can show is simply immense. If you exercise regularly, assessing your internal health enables you to identify areas which need improvement so that you can alter your diet and training programme accordingly. Once you’ve made changes, you can then have your blood re-tested at regular intervals to monitor whether certain blood markers are improving or not in order to track your progress.

For more information on private online blood tests contact www.vitall.co.uk. They offer a wide range of blood testing services which can put you on the right path to true internal health. Let’s make the year ahead the healthiest and strongest yet. SUP INTERNATIONAL

Kate is a physiotherapist and standup paddler. Reach her at www.newquayphysio.co.uk 


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