Performance


Five healthy habits to start the New Year right.

22 January 2021

Forget those resolutions you’ll never keep. Olympian turned wellbeing coach Gemma McCaw reveals five healthy habits that will help optimise your performance in 2021.

Performance


Five healthy habits to start the New Year right.

22 January 2021

Forget those resolutions you’ll never keep. Olympian turned wellbeing coach Gemma McCaw reveals five healthy habits that will help optimise your performance in 2021.

: Gemma McCaw training in her garage in Christchurch, New Zealand

Former Black Sticks hockey star Gemma McCaw believes in building healthy habits rather than making new year's resolutions. Image: Kai Schwoerer/Getty.

Healthy habits mean everything when you’re training for the Olympics, as New Zealand hockey star Gemma McCaw will tell you.

The former Black Sticks player made it all the way to the Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro games through her grit and discipline, before retiring in 2020 to spend more time with her husband, former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, and their young daughter Charlotte. Now, she puts her skills as an athlete to a different use, educating others on how to improve their mindset and maximise their strengths through her Christchurch-based consultancy Performance Wellbeing.

To help kick-start your new year, we asked Gemma to suggest five healthy lifestyle habits that everyone can take on board in 2021.

Gemma McCaw speaking at an event

The three-time Olympian retired from hockey in 2020 and now educates others on how to improve their mindset and maximise their strengths. Image: Supplied.

“I prefer not to think of them as resolutions, because those are very all-or-nothing,” she says with a laugh. “Most of us will be pretty good in January and February, but by March whatever we’ve tried to give up will start sneaking back in. I’m more about helping people change and implement small habits that make a big difference.”

1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule

“When you’re an athlete and you’re training a lot, sleep is your number one concern because it influences your ability to recover and consistently perform at your best,” Gemma explains. “I still go to bed at 9pm because it’s something I’ve learnt to prioritise. So, my biggest tip for your wellbeing in 2021 would be to regulate your sleeping patterns.

“To help you wake up at the same time every morning, leave your phone by the bed and expose yourself to natural light for at least two minutes because this tells your body it’s time to be active.

“Start by going to bed earlier and waking up at the same time every morning. You’re best to expose yourself to natural light – rather than the artificial light of a mobile phone – for at least two minutes because this helps calibrate the body’s internal body clock and contributes to healthy sleep patterns.

“If you drink coffee, think about how it could be affecting your sleep at night. It actually takes the average adult about five or six hours to break down a standard double shot, which means a 3pm cup will still be in your system when you go to bed. Rather than reaching for another coffee in the afternoons, have herbal tea instead.”

2. Impress loved ones with small gestures

“You don't have to take someone on holiday or buy them elaborate gifts to show them how much you care. Although these are nice gestures, I think the best thing you can do in any relationship is show someone how much you respect and appreciate them through your daily actions.

“Write them a note, make them a packed lunch, or fill their car up with petrol when you know they have a hectic morning. To make your relationships even stronger in 2021, think about how you can surprise a loved one with a little, intentional act of kindness every day.”

3. Meal plan to save time

“If you have a busy lifestyle, I can’t recommend this enough – spend an hour meal-planning on a Sunday night. It will set you up for the rest of the week.

“I also recommend ordering your groceries online because this encourages you to plan healthy meals and it means you’re less likely to reach for those unhealthy goodies that jump out at you when you’re wandering the aisles. Include salads full of colour on your grocery list, because food that is full of colour tends to be nutrient-dense and low in calories.”

4. Use ‘in-between’ moments to meditate

“When you're stressed, taking a minute to meditate can help bring you back to the present and give you something to focus on. It's something I like to do in the car before I'm about to run a workshop or give a speech because it immediately calms me down.

“Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, close your eyes and relax the muscles in your face. Feel the weight of your body through your seat or the floor and think about the natural cycle of your breath. Breathe in for three seconds and out for three seconds and repeat this five times. If your mind wanders, return to the physical sensation of the breath.”

5. Exercise for at least 20 minutes every day

“The idea that you need to exercise for hours every day to keep fit is a myth – there’s nothing wrong with a quick fitness session as long as you’re doing something! Setting yourself a specific exercise goal each week means you’re more likely to stick with it.

“You could decide to try a home-based workout for 20 minutes, or go running around your neighbourhood – mixing up your workouts will make it more enjoyable. Exercising with someone else can also make you more accountable. Instead of going out for brunch on the weekend, ask a friend if they’d like to catch up over a walk or a run. It’s all about making any new habit part of your lifestyle.”

By Emily Tatti