Exercising after transplantation prolongs life

Exercising after transplantation prolongs life

Twenty thousand people have donated organs or stem cells in the Netherlands. Only a fraction of them – about 400 – participate in sports several times a week. Lack of confidence in your body, lack of knowledge of sports clubs and lack of motivation from the medical world are some of the reasons for this.

The Sports and Transplant Foundation wants to do something about it now. The institution set itself the goal of increasing the estimated number of athletes substantially from three to five thousand. Because it is precisely for this group of people, life expectancy can improve dramatically with adequate exercise. After transplantation, the average person takes fifteen years with their organ. A person who exercises regularly prolongs it by an average of five years. Exercise also helps suppress the side effects of medications, which improves the quality of life.

In order to promote the sport much more, the Sports & Transplant Foundation was accepted as a member of the NOC-NSF Sports Parachute last month. An important step for the 120-member volunteer-run organization. Membership makes communication with sports federations much easier and makes it possible to apply for European benefits. “The support for the largest sports family in the Netherlands is very impressive,” says Peter Van Moerick, 57, a board member of Sports and Transplantation.

Every transplant person should be able to exercise

During its twenty years of existence, the Foundation has so far focused mainly on preparing for the World Organ Transplant Games, the World Cup for Transplant Recipients that is held every two years. In 2019, the Netherlands traveled to Newcastle with sixty athletes.

With the joining of NOC-NSF, the goal becomes broader: to enable every transplant recipient to exercise. Ultimately, there should be a sporting opportunity for every person to donate organs or stem cells within 40 kilometers. As a university organization, the foundation mainly wants to advise sports societies: how to deal with people with stem cells or organ donation.

There are several reasons why so few people exercise with a donor organ. The transplanted people should be relatively old (forty years); Then the frequency of sports also decreases in the rest of the Dutch population. Additionally, implants often become ill at a young age, which means they lack experience with sports. However, according to the foundation, there are now about five thousand people who are interested enough to play sports. They face other problems. First they have to regain confidence in their body. They also have a long recovery period after organ or stem cell donation. After weeks, months, and sometimes years in the hospital, there is almost no muscle mass left. It takes one to three years to reach the same muscle level as it was before admission. “For every week you spend in the hospital, you need a month to recover,” says Van Morik, who personally received a donor heart in 2015. “And getting into the gym is nearly impossible. To rebuild your muscle mass from this low level, you need knowledge.”

Little interest in movement

Rehabilitation clinics fall short in this regard. Someone is helped to be able to do groceries independently, but not walk thirty kilometers. “You have to find out for yourself,” says Van Morik. There is little interest in the medical world whatsoever for adequate exercise. Sport en Transplantatie now focuses on shared walking in hospitals. Four of eight Dutch transplant centers have already expanded their rehabilitation through the Walking Program. Van Morik: “If you reach a good level while walking, then you can start exercising.”

This sport usually occurs in regular sports clubs. But even once the transplanted people join, they still face barriers. Knowledge of good training methods is often lacking. The Foundation wants to assist associations in this matter.

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