President Mitchell On the Race to Better Health

President Mitchell On the Race to Better Health

At the 2012 Ironman World Championship, Mitchell served as a volunteer physician for nearly 2,000 endurance athletes.

Written by Beth Phillips

Mitchell encourages health care providers to prescribe regular exercise to their patients.

Mitchell encourages health care providers to prescribe regular exercise to their patients.

President Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D., and his colleagues are hoping to cause an eruption of support from doctors for an American College of Sports Medicine initiative called Exercise is Medicine.

Mitchell recently traveled to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to speak at the 2012 Ironman Sports Medicine Conference and volunteer as a physician to more than 1,800 endurance athletes at the Ironman World Championship.

“With the Ironman being in Hawaii, it’s a perfect setting to draw physicians out there who would have a natural predisposition toward exercise,” Mitchell said. “When you go to things like this and you see people that are putting all this effort into their training it is inspirational.”

Regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy, According to the National Institutes of Health. Studies have shown that people who are active live longer and feel better.

Just One More Mile

But exercise doesn’t have to be extreme like the Ironman – a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run – to be effective. Most adults can benefit from about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

“You don’t run marathons to stay healthy, you exercise five days a week for 30 to 45 minutes to stay healthy,” Mitchell said. “There’s a very fine line between training your body and straining your body.”

Aerobics, strength training, flexibility training and balance training tailored to a person’s needs can be just as effective in fighting diseases including depression, obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, as medication.

Health care providers in general – physicians in particular – need to understand the utility of using exercise in their medical practices as a tool, just like drugs, Mitchell said.

“If someone walks into a medical practice and says, ‘I have high blood pressure,’ they’re going to walk out with a prescription for a pill, not with a prescription with exercise,” Mitchell said. “Really giving someone an exercise prescription with the details of everything they need to truly do it is very different than just saying, ‘you need to go start walking’.”

Physicians haven’t had as part of their medical education how to write an exercise prescription, Mitchell said. That’s why the goal of Exercise is Medicine is to go out and speak to medical groups worldwide about the need for using exercise prescriptions in practice.

In triathlon events, swimming is often the most dangerous because it is many athlete's weakest exercise.

In triathlon events, swimming is often the most dangerous because it is many athlete’s weakest exercise.

Practice What You Prescribe

Mitchell delivered three lectures in his area of expertise before working in the medical tent at the Ironman competition. Although he didn’t compete in the Ironman, Mitchell is no stranger to endurance events.

“For the longest time I participated in triathlons,” Mitchell said. “The last athletic event I did was in summer of 2010 when I first got [to Lubbock] and it was an open water swimming event in Austin.”

Mitchell, an avid swimmer, took first in his age division in the 5-mile swim.

“The one thing I’d like to do at some point, were it not for sharks, is swim the English Channel,” Mitchell said.” So if I had a life goal, if there was anything I could take off time to go do, it’d be to train to swim the English Channel. The cold doesn’t bother me, the idea of a Polaris breech bothers me – my boy showed me that on shark week a few years back.”

Even without the threat of sharks, swimming is often the most dangerous event in competitions like the Ironman, Mitchell said. For many athletes, swimming is their weakest exercise, and this can cause problems.

“Just about every year in triathlons people drown during the swim,” Mitchell said.

Other areas of concern for physicians volunteering in the Ironman medical tents include athletes’ hydration status, cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure, water weight and psychological issues like exercise anorexia.

The two types of injuries physicians at endurance events see most often are repetitive micro trauma, or injuries caused by chronic overuse of a joint or muscle, and macro trauma, which includes slips, falls and bicycle wrecks.

“High-level endurance athletes tend to ignore their own problems so you can have people coming through that don’t want to leave the race because they’ve worked so hard to get there,” Mitchell said. “The athletes will do whatever they need to do to keep themselves in the race and feeling ok and one of the jobs of the physician is to make sure that they’re able to continue to participate.”

Mitchell recommends that people interested in taking their workout routines to the endurance level start out with sprint distance triathlons to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.


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Featured Expert
Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D.

Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D., is president of TTUHSC. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and has a subspecialty certification in sports medicine.

View his profile in our Experts Guide.


Beginning in 1969 as Texas Tech University School of Medicine, TTUHSC now is a six-school university with campuses in Abilene, Amarillo, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Lubbock, Midland and Odessa.

TTUHSC has trained more than 20,000 health care professionals, and meets the health care needs of more than 2.5 million people in the 108 counties including those in the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico.

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