Learning from the Hygiene Habits of Athletes


Athletes might not be the first people you think of to learn good hygiene practices from but elite athletes and their coaching & management teams know much more than you might think. When an athlete is training and competing at a high-level they are putting significant stress on their bodies. This leads to a reduction in their immune systems ability to fight off infections. In order to not get ill during competition they use a number of effective lifestyle and nutritional strategies that can reduce the extent of exercise-induced immunodepression and lower the risk of infection (Walsh et al., 2011).

For an athlete getting even something as simple as a cold the week before a competition isn’t simply an inconvenience, it’s the difference between winning and losing. At the elite level of sport this could be the difference between Olympic gold with million pound pay days, or not even making the final. The athletes and the people around them follow meticulous hygiene routines to minimise risks. Here is what we can learn from some of these:

Washing your hands

Your hands touch all manner of objects & people that could be carrying germs. Regular and thorough washing of hands is the backbone of protection. It is not simply that your hands carry the germs; it is that you use your hands to rub your face, eyes and feed yourself; all ways of those germs getting into your system. Athletes are not only rigorous in washing their hands they usually carry hand wash gel to ensure they can keep hands clean on the go.

Protect your body

Wearing the correct clothing when outside and exposed to bad weather reduces the stress on your body. Athletes also avoid exercising strenuously in cold dry air; instead they train indoors on running machines and stationary cycling machines. Your body doesn’t like getting cold and wet so avoid it. They say in fell running that there is no such thing as the wrong weather – just the wrong clothing.

Taking supplements to ensure you get all those vitamins and minerals that your body wants is smart move for those with a busy life. There have been studies on so-called dietary immunostimulants which have not conclusively confirmed their benefit. However, there is limited evidence that some flavonoids (e.g., quercetin) and Lactobacillus probiotics can reduce URTI incidence in highly physically active people. Daily ingestion of probiotics could also reduce risk of gastrointestinal infections.

Be smart when traveling

Being away from home and especially abroad can increase the risk of illness as you can be exposed to more and different germs. Avoiding undercooked meat and washing fruit before you eat it is sensible approach anytime. When travelling it is even more important and you should avoid raw vegetables and drink only from sealed containers. It is wise when traveling in many parts of the world to avoid ice in your drinks as the water used to make the ice could contain contaminants.

Rest yourself

Ensuring that you get at least 7 hours quality sleep every night isn’t simply about feeling good the next day; it helps your body fight off infection. In this digital world looking at devices like phones and tablets with their very blue light late at night can slow your body’s ability to get into sleep mode. The use of non-invasive sleep monitors that you wear through your sleep have become more popular as a way to measure the quality of sleep. Avoiding caffeine and stimulants later in the day can improve sleep patterns for many. A well-rested body is better able to defend itself.

Don’t risk spreading infections

There have been some infamous examples of athletes have gone to great lengths to avoid illness by minimising exposure to infection threats. Members of the British Track Cycling team were training in Wales just before the 2012 Olympics and were reputed to be banned from seeing any friends or family during this period to prevent infections. Athletes are even known to isolate themselves from their own team-mates if they perceive they are posing a risk. The Sky professional cycling team were fined for making one of their star riders sleep in a camper van outside the team hotel on the Giro D’Italia because he started to develop a cold and they didn’t want to risk him infecting the other eight members of the team.

While you don’t need to take such extreme lengths, avoiding infectious contacts is sensible. The very basics of this starts with not sharing bottles and towels with others, wearing flip-flops in communal showers and swimming pool areas (to prevent the spread of dermatological disease).

Coming to work when you are ill isn’t a sign of how dedicated your are to the business – it instead risks your colleagues also getting ill and this will have a much greater impact on the business & your team. You should also be conscious of visiting people who may have a lower ability to fight infection if you know you are ill. Anyone who has been unfortunate to be visiting a patient undergoing chemotherapy will know that it is imperative to not visit if you are ill for the risks of an infection are so much more serious for those undergoing this type of treatment. The very young & very old are not as good at fighting off infection, so don’t take little Jonny to visit Granny if he has the sniffles!

Putting it into practice

The actions elite athletes take to protect themselves from infection are in fact simply logical steps that we should be aware of day-to-day to ensure a healthier life for ourselves and others around us. With so much interaction in the workplace between large numbers of people, the importance of workplace hygiene should not be under-estimated. Getting ill is not only unpleasant for the person, but excessive sickness is expensive for businesses and for the most vulnerable among us it can be extremely serious. Simple steps, good habits every day and the proper facilities are all it takes to minimise infection risks.

There are a number of ways to improve hygine in the office such as providing effective hand washing and hand drying solutions, and encouraging employees to clean their desk with desk and equipment wipes.

Speak to our team to find out more about the best hygiene solutions for your business.

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