You're an athlete and want to prioritise your physical and mental health? Read this!
September 27, 20227 min read
Ways for athletes to look after themselves:
Author: Daliah Hurwitz
As professional rugby players and athletes you are used to a disciplined, scheduled way of living where the need to keep your body and mind in tip top condition at all times is paramount to your success on the field each weekend. Daily goals and long term aims for your body, your sporting career and the team are a priority more so than the general public, and with the help of a team of coaching and medical professionals to help guide you through the day, atleast 90% of who you need to be, where you need to be and what you need to be doing as a player is organised weeks if not months in advance, which gives a kind of disciplined peace and calm as you can just get on with the business of playing the game you love.
But what happens when things change, when an injury occurs, structures change or a year like 2020 hits us out of nowhere, all the routines we know and count on to keep us on stable footing shift and we have a range of normal and necessary human emotions and reactions to change depending on our mind-set: fear, anger, anxiety, depression, ambivalence or excitement, enthusiasm, anticipation and optimism for the new.
Depending on how quickly you can move to the positive end of that change scale, the body and the mind will show the effects of where you are in the process. That is why it is so important to check in with yourself often, to become your own ‘wellness coach’ so to speak, for those times when it’s just you, when you can’t train or the gyms aren’t open or you’re laid up with an injury and can’t go for that run. Or even just in a busy day filled with activity and stresses we sometimes put our thoughts and feelings and aches and pains on the backburner to deal with later, but later becomes tomorrow and so on, but stress gone unchecked raises stress hormones like cortisol (the fight or flight hormone), affecting our bodies, our immune systems, our sleeping patterns and our energy levels and our long term health. That is why it is so important to become your own best resource at taking care of the biggest commodity you have. Yourself!
We all make new year’s resolutions and some of us actually stick to them but generally it’s about making lifestyle resolutions, making those major or minor changes to your diet, your thoughts when you wake up each morning, your body and how you look after it, with knowledge and tools that will keep you doing the sport and activities you love for as long as possible and help keep that balance when moving into other phases and stages of life.
The easiest way to start this taking care of yourself lifestyle is to understand that looking after your body and your mind are not a luxury, they are a necessity. As a sportsperson your body is your machine and you need to keep it maintained, and if you’re training even more so, this may mean regular maintenance sports massages to keep the muscles loose and avoid as many soft tissue injuries as possible. If you’re lucky enough to be in a team with a massage therapist then they will help you with this, but even having a few products at home like a bottle of Wintergreens Arnica oil ; with all the essential oils it contains to aid in healing bruising, detoxing, releasing lactic acid to remove stiffness and relaxing the muscles; or magnesium gel, spray, or lotion which would replenish magnesium lost while sweating which causes muscle cramping, that you can rub into stiff muscles or get someone to massage into the hard to reach places, is a great start at self-care and body maintenance.
If even knowing the benefits of massage, it’s just not for you, then skip that shower after a hard training session and rather soak those tired, stiff and sore muscles in a relaxing warm bath, adding a product like Wintergreens Mustard soak can further help you sweat out those toxins while easing the aches and pains, relieving stiffness, lessening any inflammation built up in the day, boost your immune system which we know is always important but more so in these covid times, as well as aid with sleep.
Sleep is a hugely beneficial way you can help yourself recover both physically and mentally. When you allow your body to rest, you allow your cardiovascular health to improve, regulating your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing along with other bodily functions, while releasing hormones to help in cell repair. Mentally sleep allows the subconscious mind take over for a while giving the consciousness a rest and the mind time to sort out issues we didn’t have energy or time for in the day or taking us on extraordinary dream adventures that add colour and interest to our right brain creative mind, balancing out the very analytical left brain we use in technical, tactical ways we need to think in our waking hours.
If sleep eludes you, due to too much adrenaline still running through your system after a game or due to stress that won’t allow the mind to stop its analysis, then try Wintergreens Magnesium soak. The benefits of the magnesium on the body are immense. It works not only on our skeletal, muscular and nervous systems, but as well as to relieve anxiety and modulating Gaba waves in the brain. Gaba waves increase calming alpha waves in the brain helping to make you sleepy and increase feelings of calmness aiding in a good nights’ rest. There’s nothing better than waking up and being ready to get out on the field again full of energy, with focus and a positive mind set, all because of a good nights’ sleep.
But before you run straight out there remember preparation and warm up is a huge part of keeping yourself strong and healthy and preventing unnecessary tissue injuries, while also giving you the time to focus your mind to the task ahead, concentration on the field is important to keep you and your team mates on the same page and keep the practice moving forward. No player likes a 3 hour training session because of too many dropped balls, missed passes or wrong calls.
If you are a player with stiff muscles or you know it takes a bit of time for you muscle to warm up, then consider one of Wintergreens Muscle warm up products. There are different heat strengths for different weather conditions or intensity preferences and if there really is no time for a 5 to 10 minute vigorous rub on the hami’s or calves with one of these, then the option of Wintergreens Heat spray, quick, easy and hygienic to spray on just before you run out, will get the circulation going as you start to sweat, heating the muscles up, allowing you to focus on what’s going on in front of you without stressing that you are not warm enough for explosive movement yet.
Inevitably those bumps and bruises and aches and pains can happen on or off the field. It’s good for you to know that besides medical staff that will help and asses the initial injury, you can help in your healing process by doing what they say and doing your suggested rehab. You can also increase your healing process by initially applying Wintergreens’ ice spray, then icy arnica gel to help ease the pain, reduce swelling, bruising and inflammation that come with injuries. Later in rehab one could incorporate the menthol hot gel and joint support spray to continue relieving the aches and pains and reduce inflammation in those muscle or joints and help reduce the wear and tear on the cartilage which will work on improving mobility both on and off the field. In this way you are improving your recovery time so that you can get back out on the field faster.
Knowing you are helping yourself is hugely positive and to keep the mind as engaged while you are healing and not allowing it to take you to the negatives too often, try some mental exercises. These could include creative visualizations, seeing yourself healing, imagining from - something as simple as the muscle fibres knitting back together to seeing yourself in no pain, to seeing and feeling yourself back on the field playing the game you love. Make the mental recovery as important as the physical recovery, there are amazing books, articles and podcasts by experts in these fields, to famous athletes who use these mental practices of visualising, meditation, breath work, using positive self-talk to repetitive positive affirmations - you can find something that works for you.
The benefit of the mental work is that while you are doing these your brain releases feel good hormones like endorphins and dopamine, which aids in helping you not to get too anxious or depressed which if left unchecked may stunt your belief in your recover or getting you to the positive side of the change scale faster. When you wonder why this is important know that it’s ultimately because what you want is to be get back out on to the field where the serotonin released while exercising and the oxytocin released while bonding and making great memories with your friends and team mates is missing and you feel that in your being. These are hormones you know and good feelings you crave and a big part of being a rugby player.
Rugby player, businessperson, human being it makes no difference to the fact that you want to live a full, healthy, successful, good feeling and joyful life. You achieve this by making healthy lifestyle choices, checking in with yourself to identify your level of ok, your point on the scale and making yourself the priority in your life knowing it’s vital, necessary and realistic to adjust your goals and your aims every now and again. If you feel good, people around you feel you positive energy and that is infectious, the kind of infectious we need in the world today.
*A lot of the knowledge is from my 22 years working as a sports massage therapist, plus notes from studying massage (all types) my background in sport psychology and degree in Metaphysical psychology.
* All information about Wintergreen products and ingredients are from past articles and research materials used in them.