66 days to change: What we can learn from Canadian athletes

Canadian women have rocked these Sochi Olympics ‘ from yesterday’s astounding gold-winning performances by the women’s hockey and curling teams,


Canadian women have rocked these Sochi Olympics ‘ from yesterday’s astounding gold-winning performances by the women’s hockey and curling teams, to the Dufour-Lapointe sisters dominating moguls, to Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse making history as two-time bobsleigh gold medal winners. And, just this morning, Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa won gold and silver in women’s ski cross. In all, Canadian women standing on top of podiums has become a familiar sight. And what do these women have in common? They are fit, healthy and driven. They are incredible role models for all of us.

We aren’t Olympic athletes, but what can we learn from them in terms of our own health and fitness? A lot. Yesterday, watching the Canadian women’s hockey team push their all, even when they were down two-nil, we all learned again about never giving up, teamwork, and what determination, hard work and training can lead to. Without a doubt, those Canadian women fighting for gold are conditioned ‘ they train for hours on and off the ice, push aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. They are strong and athletic and fierce.

There is more knowledge to harness from Olympians. Olympians set goals and go after them; Olympians cross-train ‘ which helps them avoid injury and makes sure they don’t get bored by only training in their sport. They work out as a team, and they use a lot of mental imagery. Many of our Canadian athletes speak about using meditation and yoga to relax and focus. They eat well. Haley Wickenheiser says that 50 percent of her performance comes from good nutrition.

And, athletes factor in sleep. Research from a leading fitness and health association calls sleep the ‘Athlete’s Steroid’, because when we sleep our bodies release human growth hormone which helps repair our muscles and can improve performance.

Most Canadians are getting one hour less sleep a night than the 7-9 hours they should be getting; this works out to one full night of sleep each week that we’re missing. And we know that lack of sleep is correlated with being overweight or obese; inadequate sleep alters the hormones that control appetite. We’re overtired, we’re not exercising as much as we should and we’re eating more because of it. We’re not living our lives fully because we’re tired. 

This week, my sleep challenge is going better: I’ve started a going-to-bed routine earlier, turned off devices an hour before bed, and am restricting my Homeland viewing. But I can’t control nights when my son is sick, or my daughter climbs into bed with us because she had a nightmare. Five-year-olds are bigger than they used to be. I don’t have my sleep habit down yet but I’m hoping in a month that 7 hours sleep is going to be my new habit. And I hope to reap the rewards ‘ perhaps even train for a race? Set a new goal. The Olympics have inspired me.

I must make a confession. I had a cynical moment a few hours before Canada won gold in hockey. I thought: as wonderful as these Olympics are for giving us role models in athleticism and sport, the reality is that more than half of Canadians aren’t getting any exercise ‘ and we know that 85 percent of Canadians don’t get the recommended 150 minutes weekly of moderate to vigorous activity.

That statistic is worse for kids, says Dr. Ian Janssen, Queen’s University Professor in Kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Obesity: 95 percent of Canadian kids don’t get the hour a day that they need. There are several reasons underscoring that, but one of the most influential is that parents don’t role model active behaviour: they aren’t active, so their kids aren’t active.

Tonight, my 5-year-old daughter jumped up and down as she watched Marie Philip-Poulin score the winning goal in overtime, screaming: ‘Canada wins gold!!!’ Her enthusiasm knew no bounds. I hope her passion remains. Lily loves to run, dance, jump, skate, sled, somersault, scoot, bike and she’s just starting to discover sports. ‘Mummy, I want to try hockey when I get better on skates,’ Lily said to me, as I tucked her into bed tonight.

I hope other little girls are inspired today, too.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.