There is a great deal of similarity between a high-performing athlete and a high-performing professional, and thinking like an athlete may be an important paradigm shift in improving professional performance.
In the world of elite sport, we need to build resilient athletes, both in body and mind. Arguably, physical energy affects mental readiness, resilience and cognitive function, and we increase the capacity of an athlete by strength training. The concept of stressing tissue to a point where fibres start to break down, followed by adequate rest, leads to an increase in strength known as supercompensation. Given the right amount of recovery, the tissue will not only heal but, in fact, grow stronger.
This thinking can – and should – be applied when addressing physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace. A balance between stress and recovery is the key component to managing wellbeing. Athlete monitoring of sleep, nutrition, mood state, hydration and energy levels have helped to increase our awareness of stress–rest cycles and, with increased insight, training strategies can be put in place to optimise performance. Research into ultradian rhythm by chronobiologists has found that glucose and blood pressure drops every 90 mins or so. By failing to take a recovery break, you override the body’s natural stress–rest cycle and overall capacity is compromised. Optimum is considered to be a ratio of 90–120 minutes of work, to 20 minutes of rest.
“A balance between stress and recovery is the key component to managing wellbeing”
Improving health and wellbeing in the workplace requires not only looking at physical fitness but – as we do with athletes – at endurance, resilience, coping with stress and pressure, sleep and diet. Increasing hydration and stabilising a sleep routine are easy but effective places to start. Eating regularly and well is another simple tactic to feeling more energised at work. Adding a form of structure and incentive to your fitness routine may help focus your mind outside the workplace. Ultimately, each person should adapt slowly to what works for them and steadily refine their individual wellbeing plan as they go. This approach, which allows for a mindset change, may then lead to changes and improvements in health and wellbeing that last and lead to better performance
Finally the importance of happiness should not be overlooked. Practicing three random acts of kindness has been found to promote good endorphin release in the body, as has laughter. While it may sound like soft medicine, there is good research to show that tension release and heart health benefit from this approach. Double Olympic champion Michael Johnson echoed the importance of happiness factor in his book, Gold Rush, and Jonathan Austin, CEO of Best Companies says, ‘The end game has to be lasting the distance as a business leader or football manager, with health, happiness and success. This is surely the mark of a true corporate athlete’.
Ash spent 20 years as a sports physiotherapist for Team GB before becoming an athlete health consultant and taking an instrumental role in the development of an innovative athlete performance monitoring system. She leads wellbeing at Moving Ahead.