Faster, Better, Stronger

Fitness is a family value.

Eric Heiden, M.D.

Tribune Media Services

November 6, 2009


I grew up during the 1950s and '60s in Madison, WI, in a family that lived and breathed sports, and I don't mean watching sports. We played sports, outdoors: hockey, cycling, tennis, hiking, golf. My grandparents lived on a lake so we were always outside swimming and skating. We even had our own personal physician in the off chance any injuries occurred, my Dad, Dr. Jack Heiden, an orthopedic surgeon.

I remember when I was 12, I broke my wrist speed skating the same day I'd gotten the cast off from breaking my wrist cycling. And that was the second time I'd broken my wrist speed skating!

Did Dad rush in and advise me to take it easy or give up the sport? No way. My family never pressured us, but they really made activity a priority. My sister, Beth, and I didn't begin training seriously as speed skaters until 1972, but because we'd always been so active, only eight years later we both medaled at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Today I'm an orthopedic surgeon myself, in Utah, and I find medical science has the answers to many of the fitness questions I had as an Olympian, a competitive cyclist and, yes, as a parent of two kids myself, questions that my patients also bring to me.

As we head into winter, a time when many families slow their level of activity, it seemed the perfect time to start sharing that fitness information with other families.

A recent study of children around the world, in fact, suggests that we all need to embrace winter sports with greater gusto. Researchers from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki found that children under 15 are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes in winter. (Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as life-long or insulin-dependent diabetes.)

According to Elena Moltchanova, Ph.D., who led the study, published in the August issue of the journal Diabetes Medicine, the research doesn't point directly to the cause of this seasonal peak in pediatric diabetes; however, a decrease in kids' activity in winter may well be a contributor.

Here are some overall fitness tips for families that cover all seasons:

( Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic Gold medalist speed skater, is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, MD, and DeAnne Musolf. www.heidenorthopaedics.com)