Photo: Alex Chiu
In the dead of winter, mustering up the energy to get off the couch and play a game of pick-up hockey requires a bit of discipline. But an estimated 500,000 middle-aged Canadian men regularly hit the ice for the love of the game, and perhaps, in the hopes of boosting their health and fitness.
While master’s student Zack Goodman agrees that being active should be a priority for everyone, his research into the unique characteristics of recreational hockey suggests that the game may actually pose health risks in this particular demographic of players. “In hockey, you’re going from a high level of intensity on the ice, to doing nothing on the bench,” he explains. “For older guys, that could be a problem.”
Goodman is gathering data to figure out what happens to the cardiovascular systems of recreational players between the ages of 40 and 60 when they stop so suddenly. He is especially concerned with men for whom this weekly blast on the ice is their primary source of exercise. “When your heart rate is high there’s an increased demand on the heart. When your blood diastolic blood pressure drops there is a decreased ability to supply the heart. This combination of an elevated heart rate and decreased blood pressure can lead to a supply and demand mismatch.”
Though still in the early stages of gathering research, Goodman expects to see that the risk of heart problems increases with the collision of three factors: age, the stop-start nature of the game and low fitness levels.
Despite where the research seems to be leading, as a fan of the sport himself Goodman says people shouldn't be turned off playing the game. “If, in the end, my theory is right and there is an issue for those who do no other activity than rec hockey, maybe it will encourage these guys to get more exercise – and to me, that’s a great result.”