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July 24th, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Making goals happen, on and off the court

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

On a hot sunny day, eight men play street soccer on the hard top of a local basketball court. They high-five and laugh while running drills and scrimmaging. Their dynamic is unique because despite their competition, they are also extremely supportive of one another. Friendly trash talk is intermixed with calls of praise that continue when it's time for a break and the men move off the court, into the shade. To an outsider, this group of friends is happy and healthy, enjoying an afternoon in the sunshine.

soccer

Street Soccer USA tries to give hope and restore self-worth to homeless men around the country.

No one would ever suspect these men are homeless. In fact, being homeless is what brings them together.
Welcome to the Atlanta Street Soccer team. One of 16 in the country, the team is part of the national program, Street Soccer USA. The program, open to men who are homeless, addicts in a rehabilitation program, or refugees, seeks to use sports, specifically street soccer, to help the players turn their lives around.

When someone is homeless, “you stop thinking about your health and things that make you happy, things that make you want to live, that make you want to be a productive member of society, that make you want to get up and go to work.” Participating in soccer and sports “makes you want to take that next step. It motivates you to want to do better,” says Jeremy Wisham, an AmeriCorps volunteer who coaches the Atlanta team.

Calvin Riley had a job and an apartment before his company went bankrupt and he was laid off. Eventually he lost everything and became one of the more than 2 million Americans who are homeless. “I was depressed…I never thought I’d be homeless. I never thought I’d be down in the homeless shelter.”

A chance encounter with Wisham brought Riley out on the court. Since then, he says, everything has changed. “Playing soccer got me back focused. Being around positive people…helped me to go out and do something.” Riley is now enrolled in college classes with a job lined up for when he graduates in a few months. He has lost weight and he quit smoking. “You know, there’s a lot of running in soccer. When I first came…I was running constantly. I didn’t like the way it made me feel…so after three practices I said, I’m giving it up, man. I am giving it up.”

“Street Soccer is about redefining yourself and setting goals,” says Lawrence Cann, founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA. “The homeless are usually locked out of normal life so a chance to get in and play and be a part of the team…it’s something they can be proud of at the end of the day.”

The 16 teams will meet at the end of July in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Homeless Cup. From there, about a dozen players will travel to Milan to compete in this year’s World Homeless Cup. “Soccer is the world’s game. It’s the people’s game, and when you’re homeless, you’re so alone…but you become part of a community, the soccer community, probably the biggest community in the world,” says Cann.

Riley believes that support has been key to his success. “When you join this team, it’s like a family. If you need anything, we’ll be there for you.”

Do you think sports could be a solution to homelessness? Has sports ever helped you overcome an obstacle?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


July 24th, 2009
09:29 AM ET

What are phytonutrients and why do we need them?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From @richroll via Twitter.com:

“What are phytonutrients and why do we need them?”

Answer:

Thanks Rich. You can think of phytonutrients as health boosters. Plants produce these substances to protect themselves from bacteria and viruses, but they help the human body as well. They are highly nutritious active compounds within plants which promote good health.

Phytonutrients come in many classes. That list is long, but the ones you’ve probably heard of are carotenoids, flavonoids and sulfides.

We probably know the most about carotenoids, according to the USDA, they basically give fruit and vegetables their red, orange and yellow color. These compounds are believed to protect against certain cancers, heart disease and even vision loss due to macular degeneration. Think of carrots, green leafy vegetables, oranges and sweet potatoes, to name a few. In fact just one orange contains more than 170 phytonutrients!

One rule of thumb I like to follow – try to eat at least seven different colored foods every day. The brighter the color, the better, this will help fuel your body with the essential nutrients your body needs.

Evidence that these compounds help our bodies is compelling. In just one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, consuming just three servings of fruits and vegetables, was linked to a 22% decreased risk of stroke. But overall, phytonutrients are said to help slow down the aging process and may protect against a host of illnesses and diseases like some cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions. In addition, they could work to enhance immunity and serve as antioxidants.

By the way Rich Roll is quite an inspiration himself, read his story here.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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