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PHYSICAL HEALTH

3 healthy lifestyle habits of elite athletes to improve your health

Get the scoop on elite athletes’ healthy habits and how to adapt them to your everyday life for better health and wellbeing.

Angela Tufvesson
August 2019

Elite athletes may make grand slam victories, shooting goals and breaking world-record times look easy, but that’s because they dedicate their lives to achieving sporting success – and there’s a lot more to it than pure talent. From tracking their heart rates and nutrient intake, to using every training session as an opportunity to compete, and adhering to an uber-strict routine –­­ top sportspeople use detailed scientific strategies to maximise performance. Not to mention their ability to bounce back from setbacks, such as a poor result or missed training session.

You might not aspire to Olympic glory or a spot on the national team, but we can all learn from elite athletes’ healthy habits and routines for a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Collect personal health data

Every aspect of an A-grade athlete’s physiology, diet and training is subject to intense scrutiny to maximise performance and identify areas for improvement. Think skinfold readings, acceleration and vertical jump statistics, workload data and detailed food diaries.

For us mere mortals, wearable fitness trackers and health and wellbeing apps can also work to collect personal health data and drive behaviour change. Want to sleep better, move more or improve your mental health? There’s an app for that. Indeed, a recent survey by VicHealth and Deakin University found more than 30% of Australians use apps to try to improve their health and wellbeing.

Not all apps or health trackers are created equal, so it’s important to choose those backed by a solid evidence base. VicHealth and Deakin University have put together a handy Healthy Living Apps Guide, with star ratings to help you decide what might be right for you.

Sports psychologist Shayne Hanks says health and fitness wearables and apps can be good tools for tracking personal improvement, developing healthy habits and progressing towards a goal.

‘Elite athletes are more concerned about tracking their workload and making sure they’re in the right heart rate zone, for example – whereas for most everyday people it’s about gathering information and feeling like you’ve achieved something, that you’re moving in the right direction,’ he says.

Compete against yourself

Elite athletes never miss an opportunity to compete when training to improve performance and simulate a real competition.

‘Elite and professional athletes are extremely competitive people – they almost always try to outdo themselves and each other,’ says Hanks.

And even when they don’t succeed, they remain dedicated to their healthy habits with the hope of being better next time.

Creating opportunities for competition when you exercise instead of simply going through the motions promotes a healthy mindset, he says. Try to run for longer than the day before or add a couple of extra laps to your swimming session.

Striving to improve your workout is a good motivational tool, Hanks explains. ‘Just comparing you to you, not anyone else, takes out a lot of demotivating factors like age, athleticism and the fitness and strength of other people.’

Stick to a routine

The life of an elite athlete is governed by strict routines. What they eat, when they eat, when they train and for how long, is strictly controlled and monitored to promote self-discipline and help achieve peak performance.

While there’s no need to be as strict as the professionals, the same principles can apply to the everyday exerciser who struggles to balance a healthy lifestyle with the demands of work and life. In fact, research suggests that developing healthy habits is the real key to changing behaviour for good.

A simple action repeated in a consistent context creates healthy habits. You might play soccer every Wednesday night, visit the gym three times a week, and cook up a big batch of nutritious soup on Sundays. After a while, these behaviours become routine and you’ll do them without too much thinking.

‘Doing some planning and having a routine laid out reduces the small decisions you have to make every day,’ says sports scientist Dr Peter Fowler, from Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ‘It’s easier to form a habit if you've got your daily routine laid out in front of you to follow.’

This is one area where professionals have it easier than everyday folks – so be patient with yourself and get support from people around you when developing your own routine.

With a little focus and a few clear goals, you might soon find yourself in a bid to beat your personal best every time you pull on your joggers or jump in the pool.

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