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What's up, Doc? Quantifying Boston's playoff fever

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If you are more than a casual fan of baseball, then you have probably heard of Sabermetrics. It's a way of analyzing baseball statistics that goes quite a bit deeper than the box scores. Sabermetricians will tell you that the numbers don't lie, and the larger the sample, the more valid the data becomes.

With a regular season of 162 games, there is ample opportunity to collect that data. Proponents view it as a means to obtain a more objective view of a player's abilities, or in the case of contract negotiations, a predictive value. It has spawned quite a few unusual -- but now familiar -- acronyms, such as OPS (on-base plus slugging), DIPS (defense independent pitching statistics), and one of my favorites: VORP (value over replacement player).

Now that we are deep into the postseason, you don't throw all those statistics out the window. You have to dig a little deeper. After all, a team that has made it to the playoffs likely has better pitching, hitting and defense. A best-of-seven series limits your opportunities to recover from mistakes. The pressure gets ratcheted up a bit. That's when you might want to keep an eye on IOV. It's a stat that I made up after talking to Dr. Aditi Nerurkar. She is the assistant medical director at the Cheng and Tsui Center for Integrative Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

IOV is a fan statistic. It stands for "Increased Office Visits." With the Red Sox in the hunt for another World Series, I expect the number to jump.

"Well, there is data out there that shows perhaps 60 to 80 percent of visits to a physician are related to stress," explained Dr. Nerurkar. "But I'm not sure that we will find a direct correlation between the Red Sox being in the playoffs and fans being in a doctor's office."

Since she didn't grow up in New England, I explained to Dr. Nerurkar that while the memories of Duck Boat parades in 2004 and '07 are still vivid, there is also a history of heartbreak and disappointment -- some ancient, some more recent -- that we still carry.

"It is absolutely true that chronic stress can lead to serious health issues. Your risk of heart disease increases. We know that depression, anxiety and insomnia can be related to chronic stress," said Dr. Nerurkar. "Chronic stress can be related to the pressures of work or trying to find a job. It might be a situation at home. We also know that many people are not aware of the connection between stress and other health risks, so they don't necessarily discuss the stress they are feeling with a health professional."

Dr. Nerurkar also pointed out that many of those health professionals do not specifically ask patients about stress and rarely include stress-management counseling for patients. In fact, research led by Dr. Nerurkar determined that just three percent of the more than 33,000 primary-care visits they studied included any information about stress counseling.

"The good news is that we found if you live in the Northeast, you are much more likely to get that counseling. Sixty-three percent more likely!"

That's a heck of a lot better than Cubs fans might expect. And just what might that stress reduction counseling look like? At BIDMC's Cheng and Tsui Center for Integrative Care, the goal is to use both modern medicine and integrative therapies from around the world to help patients get well, live well and stay well.

"One area that interests me is the use of mind-body therapies (MBT) such as yoga, meditation, T'ai chi and deep-breathing exercises. Those are just a few of the practices that are increasingly in use and prescribed by physicians."

Prescribed? You write a prescription for meditation or yoga?

"Sure! I don't expect someone who has never practiced meditation before to immediately put themselves into a deep state of relaxation for a half an hour. What I suggest is that they find a spot where they won't be distracted and start small. Set a timer for perhaps three or five minutes and begin by just concentrating on their breathing. Just try to focus on the sound of each breath coming in and being released. Feel your chest expand and contract. Do that over time, and it can be a wonderful way to release stress."

It does sound a little better than holding your breath every time the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. But understand: It's not easy.

"Oh, I do understand that what's simple may not be easy. We're all guilty of that, including myself. I practice yoga, but there are times when I am on the yoga mat and my mind is racing, thinking about what I need to do tomorrow or what I have to buy at the grocery store. That's why they call it yoga practice, right? The more we do it, the better we get at putting ourselves in the right frame of mind."

I mentioned earlier that Dr. Nerurkar didn't grow up in New England and was spared much of the insecurity and angst that longtime Red Sox fans were forced to live with. But she was around for the last few forgettable seasons and framed quite nicely what might be the best strategy going forward.

"If you think about what the expectations were for this team coming into this season, I would suggest taking a deep breath and just saying, 'Thank you.' I call it practicing gratitude.

Thank you for the advice, Doc. It is going to take a little practice.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to The BID Injury Report is a regular column on Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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