Why is exercise so important to each of us

Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt, you stress in your book how much damage it is doing that we have moved less than usual in the past two years.

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During the first corona wave, people went out more than usual and exercised. I was able to notice this because I regularly jog in the English Garden myself. I liked it so much: I thought everyone was doing more now for their bodies and their health. But then it subsided very quickly, and there was no sign of that in the second wave. People have been staying at home longer, and a lot of time has been spent sitting. The children did not go to school and played with the controller for several hours more than before. This is not without serious consequences for the development of the mind and body. It’s not just about proven weight gain.

They describe movement as “the elixir of life” and “the key to our physical and mental health.” Is lack of exercise one of the reasons why so many people are not doing well during lockdown?

I think so. Our well-being, our psyche, suffers from a lack of exercise. Anyone who exercises knows that afterwards you feel better physically and fresher. Children in particular need movement. They have a natural impulse to move that you must succumb to. If you deny them the opportunity to do so, it is fatal. A child who does not move but wants to cannot be a happy child!

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You also describe how you have been active in sports since you were a child and how you cannot imagine your life without it. Can you understand that it’s hard to motivate yourself when you’ve never exercised your life?

Of course it gets more difficult after that. Therefore, we must definitely start with the children. I appeal to parents: let your kids run and ride their bikes to school! We know the brain develops better with regular exercise, so exercise makes you smart. Only: Today, children can use their cell phones as early as preschool age, but their range of movement is becoming increasingly restricted. In the past, children and young people traveled within a radius of an average of three, four or five kilometers – today it is only 600 meters long. That’s too little!

Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt was FC Bayern Munich’s team doctor for many years and Germany’s national team doctor until 2018. He continues to care for international professional athletes and runs an orthopedic and sports medicine clinic in Munich. His second book, Movement – The Elixir of Life for Our Health, was released in April.

Most adults today work in desk jobs. It’s hard to avoid spending most of the day sitting.

Because of their jobs, many of them can only move a little during the day. But even for desk jobs, I recommend getting up every 45 minutes, extending your legs, and getting outdoors during breaks. Even short, regular breaks in movement have an unimaginable positive effect on the metabolism of cartilage, bones and muscles, the maintenance of healthy intervertebral discs, or also on the cardiovascular system and brain.

What would you advise slightly older people? Sport is not that easy anymore.

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Almost anyone can go for a walk. But please do it regularly, no matter the weather, and not just when you’re in a good mood. Another option is to learn to walk or bike, outside or on an exercise bike at home. I want to convince people to motivate themselves and discipline themselves. Exercising leads to a longer, healthier life — and the older you get, the more important exercise becomes.

Does your choice of profession have anything to do with the fact that you enjoy playing sports on your own?

When I was young, I thought back and forth about the job I wanted to learn. You are interested in technology, music or architecture. But I also saw my limits there. On the other hand, she has always played a lot of sports and has also been successful in major athletics competitions. Then I had a major experience. A friend’s father was the chief surgeon and allowed us to watch the operation treating a patient who was badly injured in an accident. Then the spark jumped and I knew I wanted to be a doctor. It was then clear that I would become a sports orthopedic.

Her school degree wasn’t actually enough for medical studies…

Yes, my grades weren’t good enough for a variety of reasons. However, at the time, there was a likely unique chance of being accepted into Kiel University after a three-day aptitude test. I did really well in physics and showed that I was entitled to a chance to study medicine. After my studies, my goal was to get the best training possible in the best clinics. When I was in my early thirties, I had the opportunity to work as a Sports Physician at Hertha BSC.

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Even when I later took care of the Bayern Munich team and the national team, you always continued to do your own training. Why was this important to you?

It has always been important to me to remain independent. I make my own decisions about how to treat, based on my heart. That is why I refused a contract with Bayern Munich, which was offered to me by the manager at the time, Robert Schwann, in 1976. Much later, under coach Pep Guardiola, I was no longer able to decide on my way of working on my own. He interfered with all his might in my specialties. I could not and did not want to allow this.

For decades, you’ve relied on gentler “alternative” treatments, so how did that happen?

It was clear to me early on that when I became a doctor, I wanted to go my own way. It has always been important for me to help patients, but under no circumstances do I harm them through treatment. At that time, it was common to treat athletes with painkillers and cortisone: this can suppress the pain, but it does not help with it. On the other hand, I already had a penchant for more natural methods of treatment, homeopathy, biological and highly effective medicines. When I then dealt with big stars like Beckenbauer, Hoeneß or Müller and Maier, I was able to stay completely comfortable. I knew that in the worst case, the treatment wouldn’t work right away. But I didn’t hurt any players either. If you make an accurate diagnosis in sports medicine and know exactly where and how to treat, you can also be successful using alternative methods.

You were very critical of the treatment methods used by your colleagues at the time. How do you think sports medicine has evolved today?

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Today, doctors leave much to modern imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography. I see it decisively. I think we should learn to feel our hands again and touch patients again instead of pushing them directly into the tube. For example, muscle injuries caused by nerves or stress cannot be detected on an MRI, but you can feel them. At the end of the day, we treat patients – not photos.

My colleagues offended me a lot.

Hans Wilhelm Muller Wolfhardt, Sports Physician

At the beginning of your career you were also criticized a lot for your unusual methods at the time. How did you deal with the resistance?

That’s right, my colleagues have often denounced me and judged my work, although they did not even know how to diagnose and treat me. At a major international conference, a colleague demanded that my license be revoked. You can imagine that wasn’t cute. After 30 years, in the same place, on the same occasion, I received a prestigious award – the Karl Rabel Prize. But my patients and athletes always believed in me. In the 80s I was flooded with a wave of inquiries from all over the world, many well-known athletes from all sports wanted me to treat them, for example from football, tennis, golf, athletics, Formula 1, cycling, handball, gymnastics, ice hockey and speed skating.

Does it make a difference to you treating successful athletes or the “normal” patients who come to your clinic?

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I assure you that everyone is treated to the best of my knowledge. Of course, the biggest challenge is working with the athletes. It often depends on the success of the treatment. Usain Bolt, for example, called me four days before the Olympics – he had muscle aches and had to stop training. I immediately said I was coming because I knew every hour counted. The city was fully booked and in a small apartment I ended up treating his muscles and the cause of his injury. Then he won the gold medal three times. Out of gratitude, he dedicates the medal to me in front of the camera and to a billion spectators – of course this deeply moved me. Another story: At the World Championships in Rio, it was ensured that Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm were able to participate despite their injuries. I was one of the best performing players on the team at the World Cup. Trust me, Jogi Love and Schweinsteiger was the playmaker in the final.

In any case, things went well. But isn’t it stressful that your decisions have such a big impact?

A lot of people think I should be nervous, but I believe in what I’m doing. I trust the knowledge I gained during examination – especially during palpation – and build on decades of experience. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to make such decisions.

A book has been published

The book “Exercise – the elixir of life for our health” by Hans Wilhelm Müller Wohlfahrt has been published by Inselverlag, ISBN: 9783458643036, 287 pages, 26 euros.

You will turn 80 this year and still look very athletic. Is getting old not even noticeable to you?

I lead a very disciplined life and feel physically and mentally fit. In addition, I am sure that my genetic disposition is suitable for my job and that my lifestyle has been healthy since I was young. I can’t imagine not working anymore. I know I can help. This makes me happy and the gratitude of the patients releases tremendous energy in me.

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How exactly do you maintain your personal fitness and how do you motivate yourself to exercise?

I do jogging whenever possible. Also in the cities where I currently work. London, Paris, New York, Melbourne, there is a garden everywhere. As far as motivations are concerned: I don’t really think about it, whether I feel like it. Sometimes I might better lift my feet. But then, when I walked a few steps, he forgot about it, and the lightness returned. My mind wanders as I mentally move around the world.

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