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Brace Up

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Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar joined the Super Eagles as team physician since August 2010, a position which he currently holds. He has encountered several emergencies, including cardiac arrest on the pitch. In this article, he shares on the importance of exercise, using real life experiences as case studies.

– By Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar

I started working with the Nigerian Football as far back as 2005 when I was team doctor to U20 male team to the FIFA U20 World Cup, which we played in the finals in 2005 with Samson Siasia as the coach. It may interest you to know that I was born and bred in Jos, though my parents were from Kano state. During my childhood days, I was an ardent supporter of football and I played football at school and street level. I even attended the same primary school with the current captain of the Super Eagles, John Obi Mikel.

I have always loved football and wanted to play. As fate would have it that I could not, I eventually joined after completing my service and working with the emergency department of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano. I then got an offer to work with the Federal Ministry of Sports, at the Sports medicine unit back in 2002 and that is where the story began. Eventually, I was posted to the football team.

I believe it was destiny because playing football was something I wanted to do but because I wanted to pursue education, I couldn’t play professionally, at that level. So destiny took me back to football through the Federal Ministry of Sports.

As the team doctor, I am responsible for the wide-range of health issues, including players’ health, their nutrition, and medication. I advise the players, making sure they take proper health decisions.

I also work with other physicians, including the physiotherapists and massage therapists in order to make sure that the player’s health is optimal. And at the end, my colleagues and I are responsible for taking decisions on players; whether a player is fit to play or not. I also intercede between these players and their clubs, especially those playing outside the country, in terms of their welfare and well-being.

Sports and exercise medicine is a new specialization of medicine and so, it is not quite attainable in most countries. Even in Nigeria, we do not have any institution or hospital training in this field. One of the challenges with the uniqueness is that you must know what you are doing because whatever you do is subject to public discuss, and you are dealing with players who are known at the highest level and who will be overseen by other well-trained sport and exercise physicians and specialists. So it is a field that you must know what you are doing right from the word go.

I have seen a lot of players and emergencies in my career. But of all the things I have come across, one of the highlights is saving someone’s life; resuscitating somebody who had a cardiac arrest in football. As part of our job in the sports medicine department of the federal ministry, we offer medical services to Nigerian referees when they do the annual referee screening. And it is a rigorous event. It involves a lot of running, and those who are at risk of cardiac issues may have sudden cardiac arrest, which may lead to death.

I was on the touchline in one of these screening exercises and a referee collapsed. Good thing is I was around to help in making sure the athlete was resuscitated. He is still alive, but is no longer a practicing referee based on our advice.

Therefore, for the average Nigerian who needs to stay healthy, exercise is life; it is very important. There are so many recommendations which have been instituted in several countries, in order to maintain a normal healthy lifestyle. These are a few:

  1. Exercise for at least two and a half hours weekly. It can be shared throughout the week. Exercise can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, cycling, or swimming for 30 minutes a day.
  2. Do resistant exercises like lifting dumb bells 15 times, thrice a week and/or press ups.
  3. Eat a balanced diet.
  4. Refrain from smoking or too much alcohol.

Studies have shown that engaging in physical activities increases mortality, life expectancy, quality of life and reduces the risk of getting diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other diseases. So it is important to have exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.

For those interested in sport and exercise medicine, studies can be furthered abroad, especially in the UK and other countries. What we have here in Nigeria are students coming to the sport medicine centre at the federal ministry for clinical attachments, especially students from UI and OAU.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.

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