News ID: 319329
Published: 0214 GMT January 11, 2022

COVID-19 strained sport activity across Iran, but athletic passion set to prevail

COVID-19 strained sport activity across Iran, but athletic passion set to prevail

By Elham Zahabzadeh*

Stuck behind the closed door of the gym, away from the teammates, missing the coach, denied to the court, out of shape, and almost out of mind. The situation is sickening and tiring. These are the complaints which both athletes and gym rats often make during the pandemic.

Many people say the symptoms feel quite like drug withdrawal. The comparison is not entirely incorrect as it is possible to develop an obsession for exercise, said Szabó Attila, a health psychologist who studies exercise addiction at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, in a recent interview with The New York Times. It’s been long known that exercise can lead to higher levels of ‘dopamine’ in the brain, also known as happy hormone. Due to its joyful experience, people can get addicted to activities which contribute to its release.

Having those joyful moments is not without undue consequences. “Athletes feel depressed when they are not as active as they used to be,” said Mahboubeh Valiollahi, who has been a futsal coach for 10 years. There are other prices to pay, as well. Due to home-staying during the pandemic, many of her team members “gained weight, got out of shape, or otherwise lost their physical preparedness,” Valiollahi added.

For much of these, the notorious virus is to blame. “In general, fewer athletes are willing to do exercise, due primarily to justified concerns about coronavirus,” said Sanaz Masajedi, a 28-year-old CrossFit coach who holds a master degree in physical education. “When the gyms were closed down due to quarantine, my estimation is that just about 10 to 15 percent of the people continued to exercise on a regular basis either at home or in public parks, and sometimes through taking online classes.” Asked if she gave up on practice, she told me why she had to keep exercising: “As a coach, I need to be always in shape because my body is the proof of concept in my line of work.”

In most recent weeks, however, there have been many cases where less than justified reasons kept the former gym rats away from practice. “Some hypersensitive families have been preventing their kids from attending practice sessions, even now that some measures are relaxed and a vast majority of people are vaccinated,” Valiollahi told me.

And in some instances, giving up on the exercise has merely been a matter of laziness, to put it bluntly. “We are always looking for an excuse to avoid doing what we are supposed to do, and the current excuse of choice is COVID-19,” Masajedi said, adding that she has a suggestion for them: “There is a strong connection between the athletes and their mindsets; so, if you are really fond of sport, you can do it online.”

All in all, those who used to be into sports and exercises need to resume their activities, if only to overcome pandemic-related stressors. “There was this high school kid, severely depressed. Her mother asked me for help. We convinced her to join us on a short camping trip. When I saw her, she looked terribly miserable,” Valiollahi recalls. “She started working again which helped her overcome depression.” In that spirit, coaches can play a significant role. Valiollahi explains that “Kids have a special attachment to their sports coaches. In fact, the coach has a lot to do with motivating kids to keep at it.”


What about real COVID-related issues?


The situation is yet to return to normal (pre-COVID) conditions. Some preventive measures, thought relatively relaxed by now, are still at place which may limit the number of people who can attend practice and exercise sessions. And there are more readily visible constraints, including the now pervasive use of face masks.

In fact, many athletes complain that wearing facemasks makes them run short of breath. That self-reported concern made many researchers to investigate the matter from an objective point of view, leading to the hypothesis that it might be due to a decrease in blood oxygen and an increase in blood CO2 content as a result of using face masks.

“Curiously, our researches demonstrated that wearing surgical masks while doing exercise has no discernible physiological effect of that kind,” said Fatemeh Qandehari, master of sports physiology at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University, whose team investigated blood gasses of marathon runners. Why marathon runners? “Because they were the first group of athletes who were allowed to resume their exercises during the pandemic.” She, however, emphasized that these results may only be valid for surgical facemasks, the most common type of facemasks people use, because other types of masks (such as the famous N95 type) are made of different material and may have different effects.

But if there is no objective change of blood gasses, why do some athletes continue to complain? According to Qandehari, it might be a mental thing, a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If the players suggest to themselves that wearing the mask reduces their breathing capacity, it can actually happen and they start panting,” she said.


No alternative – especially for girls


Masajedi believes in the exhilarating effect of togetherness in sports and exercise activities. “When I was a high school student, every day after school I used to run to take my backpack, go to gym, join my friends, and release my energy. I’m worried about girls, especially the adolescents, who don’t do any exercise.” What’s so particularly important about gyms? “The atmosphere of the gym, the movements, the togetherness, they all can cheer you up and keep you from developing many unfortunate conditions,” she said.

And you don’t need to worry if you’ve been away for some time, not at least according to Valiollahi, a former member of the Tehran Football Committee Board. As she is now anticipating several rounds of national and international matches ahead, she has already started working with her ‘kids’, as she refers to them. “Within six months I managed to bring them somehow up to speed to attend league matches," she told me about players who had gone through a “factory reset,” in her words, due to pandemic home-staying. “Just start doing what you were used to do, and the effects of that damn virus will be washed away soon.”


*Elham Zahabzadeh is a guest contributor at Iran Daily.



Security Key:
Captcha refresh
Page Generated in 0/3297 sec